New report shows private prison industry gave nearly $1 million in campaign contributions to Florida Legislators in 2010

Penny Reeder, a correctional officer from Starke, said it would be dangerous to privatize prisons.
"We're proud to be the first line of defense against violent criminals who could harm our family, friends and neighbors," she told reporters. "We're afraid of what will happen to families in Florida if our correctional facilities are turned over to for-profit corporations. Surrounding communities will be less safe, but hardworking people will lose their jobs and small businesses will close. It isn't right and it isn't fair to do this to Florida just so a prison company can make more money."

K.T. Caldwell, a teacher from Seminole County, criticized the Legislature. "Tallahassee politicians want to change the rules to hide the economic impact of privatization from voters so they can reward special interests with contracts even when they cost more and are less efficient," she said. "They want us to just trust them to do the right thing as they siphon more dollars out of local communities with privatization schemes."

According to the report, the GEO Group & GEO Care led the way with $829,665 in campaign contributions. Four other private prison groups — CCA, Global Tel Link, Armor Correctional Health Services and LCS Correctional Services — round out the list.

Broken down by party, the private prison industry gave $783,494 to Republicans and just $143,000 to the Florida Democratic Party.

The Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA), was successful last year in blocking a similar effort in the Legislature. They charged that it was unlawful to attach the privatization plan inside the state budget bill, and a judge agreed with them. Lawmakers say they will make certain to have full debate on a stand-alone bill this time before holding a vote on it. The current bill would turn over 29 correctional facilities in an 18-county region to private companies.

As the Florida Legislature inexorably drives toward privatizing a host of prisons in South Florida, a new report issued on Monday shows that the private prison industry gave nearly $1 million in campaign contributions during the 2010 election cycle, the most the industry has given over the last decade.

Researchers at the National Institute on Money in State Politics have been tracking prison privatization legislation in Florida since lawmakers tried to privatize at least 16 prisons in the southern third of the state with the budget bill last May.

Last week the Senate budget committee approved a version of the plan, and it will soon be brought up for the entire state Senate to debate.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday in the Capitol, Pasco County Republican state Senator Mike Fasano was joined by several public employees in Florida at a news conference denouncing the proposed legislation.

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