The Florida State Senate has defeated a measure to privatize at least 27 prisons, which would have created the largest corporate-run prison system in the country. Despite the vote, Republican Gov. Rick Scott could still privatize the prisons through executive authority. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of prisoners being added to privately run jails is outpacing the overall prison population by 17 percent compared to 4 percent. The nation’s largest operator of for-profit prisons, Corrections Corporation of America, recently sent letters to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons in exchange for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least at 90 percent capacity. We discuss prison privatization with two guests: Florida Republican State Senator Mike Fasano, who led the charge against the bill to handover South Florida’s state prisons to private companies, and ACLU of Ohio spokesperson Mike Brickner, co-author of the report, “Prisons for Profit: A Look at Prison Privatization.” [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: The Florida State Senate has defeated a measure to privatize at least 27 prisons, which would have created the largest corporate-run prison system in the country. Despite the vote, Republican Governor Rick Scott could still privatize the prisons through executive authority. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the number of prisoners being added to privately run jails is outpacing the overall prison population by 17 percent compared to 4 percent.
Meanwhile, the nation’s largest operator of for-profit prisons recently sent letters to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons. In exchange, Corrections Corporation of America is asking for 20-year management contracts, plus an assurance that the prisons would remain at least at 90 percent capacity. A CCA spokesperson touted prison privatization as a cost-saving initiative.
CCA SPOKESPERSON: This company, CCA, we are the leader and the largest in the world, as far as private prisons and jails. We’re highly rated in the stock market. It hones your ability to do it less expensively, because we have to earn a profit.
AMY GOODMAN: Corrections Corporation of America has been a swiftly growing business, with revenues expanding more than fivefold since the mid-’90s.
Well, for more, we’re joined now by two guests. On the phone, we’re joined by Florida Republican State Senator Mike Fasano. He led the charge against the bill to hand over South Florida’s state prisons to private companies. And in Cleveland, Ohio, we’re joined by the ACLU of Ohio’s spokesperson, Mike Brickner, co-authored a report called “Prisons for Profit: A Look at Prison Privatization.”
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! State Senator Mike Fasano, let’s begin with you. Why did you oppose this measure in Florida?
STATE SEN. MIKE FASANO: Well, first and foremost, I’m a true believer, as many of my colleagues are, that you don’t privatize public safety. You do not put, in my opinion, public safety in the hands of private corporations to make a profit.
Secondly, it is my belief that you do not put hardworking men and women, like our correctional officers and their families, out of work. We have a 10 percent-plus unemployment rate in the state of Florida, and the last thing we should be doing is moving prisons that were paid for by the taxpayers into the hands of corporations, that would probably put many of these families out of work, who have mortgages to pay, homeowner’s insurance to pay, food on the table. This would be devastating to—not only to their families, but also to the community they live in.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Senator Fasano, you suffered repercussions from your own party as a result of your leading this fight, this successful fight. What happened?
STATE SEN. MIKE FASANO: Well, it wasn’t the party per se. It was the president of the Senate, Mike Haridopolos, that pushed this issue for the last year and a half since he’s been president of the Senate. I had made it clear last year, when he made me chairman, appointed me chairman of the committee that oversaw the Department of Corrections budget, that I could not support the expansion of privatization of our prison system in the state of Florida. He removed me from that position.
The good thing is that the vote that killed the bill that would expand the privatization in Florida was a bipartisan vote. We had 10 Republicans that joined 12 Democrats to defeat the bill 21 to 19 this past week.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get your response, State Senator Fasano, to your governor, Rick Scott, who talked about his support of efforts to privatize the prisons of South Florida.
GOV. RICK SCOTT: What the bill says is that if we don’t save at least 7 percent, we don’t do prison privatization. But why wouldn’t we put ourselves in a position that, if we can save money, to put the money in the programs that we know we need to fund, whether that’s education or whether that’s Medicaid or any of our other programs—why wouldn’t we—why wouldn’t we take this opportunity to save the money? So, I’m hopeful that the House and Senate will approve it, because it’s the most logical way to save some money.
AMY GOODMAN: State Senator Fasano, could Republican Governor Rick Scott still privatize the prisons through executive authority? And your response to his saying this is how we could save money?
STATE SEN. MIKE FASANO: Well, it’s my understanding that he can, that he can and does have the ability, through statute, to privatize prisons. To the extent that this legislation would have allowed it, I’m not sure about that. But that’s why I asked for a study. The original amendment that I had on the bill, before we killed the bill, was to—would have required an in-depth study, economic study, to find out if there’s true savings there, but also to find out if—by privatizing, does it impact of our correctional officers, their community, and the economy of the state of Florida as a whole?
You know, they keep saying that—and the Governor refers to this 7 percent savings. I’ve not seen it. I used a perfect example on—during our debate, when we stopped the bill from moving forward. We talked about per diem. I used a public facility versus a private facility that was similar, comparable, and yet the public facility run by the state, the per diem per day was about $10 less than what the private company is charging the taxpayers. So I respectfully disagree with Governor Scott.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Mike Brickner of the ACLU in Ohio, you’ve been studying the privatization of prisons. What about this issue that they’re cheaper, and what are some of the other problems that you’ve seen in your studies?
MIKE BRICKNER: Well, I think, first of all, it is the great myth that private prisons will provide any type of cost savings. Here in Ohio, we have—by statute, they’re required to save at least 5 percent. But there have been multiple studies that have shown that they did not save 5 percent. And in some years that we’ve had private prisons here in our state, they actually cost more than public prisons. And other states like Arizona have found that, as well. So, really, they don’t save much money at all.
We’re concerned on a number of different issues. Here in Ohio, we’ve had a very spotty past as far as safety with private prisons. Back in 1999, we had a private prison, a federal penitentiary in Youngstown, Ohio, and within 14 months of it being opened, there were 13 stabbings, two murders and six escapes. It got so bad that the city of Youngstown had to sue to close down the private prison and have them comply with their safety concerns. So, what we saw was, eventually, they had to comply with the safety concerns, and once they did that, it was no longer profitable for them to remain open.
The main way that they save money with the private prisons is that they cut staff benefits and pay. That means that they have less experience, less knowledgeable staff. That leads to higher turnover. And then they are not equipped to deal with the issues that occur when there is a riot or violence in a prison. And then we see an uptick in safety issues. Studies have shown, at similarly security-level prisons, private prisons have a 50 percent higher inmate-on-inmate and inmate-on-staff assault ratio than public prisons do.
AMY GOODMAN: State Senator Mike Fasano in Florida, who are the forces behind the push for privatization? How much money is involved here, and who’s getting it?
Ah, it looks like we just lost State Senator Mike Fasano. We’re going to go for a moment, if we can—we may have lost also Mike Brickner at the ACLU of Ohio, speaking to us from Cleveland.
The “Prisons for Profit: A Look at Prison Privatization,” your report—were you surprised by this letter that went out from the CCA? Talk about the significance of this and the push around the country in this election year.
Ah, I think he isn’t able to hear us, so we’re going to leave it there. We’re going to link to Mike Brickner’s report with the ACLU of Ohio, called “Prisons for Profit.” And I want to thank Florida Republican State Senator Mike Fasano for being with us from Florida.