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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Florida News

Big Decisions Ahead for 4,000 FL Correctional Employees  

TALLAHASSEE, FL - The move to privatize 29 south Florida prisons means that about 4,000 corrections officers have big decisions to make. The workers either agree to work for a new prison-for-profit company, or they relocate - at their own expense - to other facilities in Florida, where there are only about 2,000. There's also a pending lawsuit contending that the legislation is unconstitutional.

Matt Puckett, executive director of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, claims that private, for-profit-prisons will raise, not lower, the crime rate.

"They're in the business to incarcerate people for money, so if crime's up and people are going to prison, they're making profits. They're thrilled!"

The for-profit GEO Group reportedly gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Republican Party in the 2010 election cycle, and the company's lobbyist reportedly helped raise millions for Gov. Rick Scott's inaugural fund.

Another company expected to bid for some of the work is Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which contributed $5,000 to Scott's campaign. CCA spokesman Steve Owen objects to the notion of political "back-door" influence.

"I think a claim like that is absurd. We have a right to participate in the political process and to contribute, and CCA does so appropriately, and all of that is publicly available. We're very transparent."

Another problem with the privatization plan cropped up last week when the news broke that it could cost the state up to $25 million for unused vacation time, sick leave and holiday comp time as the corrections officers migrate to private employment. There is little independent data to verify whether public or privately run prisons are the best way to go.

The various aspects of the lawsuit will be heard during court dates in September and October. 

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