Florida’s Department of Corrections has a $3 billion budget and holds just over 100,000 inmates. Following his election, Governor Rick Scott hired Edwin Buss, former chief of the Indiana corrections system, to take over as the secretary of the Department of Corrections. According to a recent article in the St. Petersburg Times, Buss is not taking a modest approach to the Florida prison problem.
In his brief tenure as secretary of the Department, Buss has worked toward privatizing prison healthcare and extending correctional officer shifts to twelve-hour shifts, and he has banned smoking and pornography in prisons outright. Meanwhile, the biggest change on the horizon for Florida prisons was not his idea, but rather the legislature’s. The new measure requires the state to outsource thirty prisons and work release centers to private companies by January 30, 2012.
Privatization of prison healthcare has been suggested in Texas as well, even though RepublicanJerry Madden, Chairman of the House Corrections Committee expressed hesitancy in the most recent session: “Many times when you hire private vendors, you find the only way they can provide services cheaper is by paying their people less or providing less service… with medical care, that’s exactly what we don’t want to get into.” Despite Madden’s concerns, the Board of Criminal Justice feels that it’s a solution worth exploring. Projections by the private companies who advocated for the shift estimated $30-50 million in annual savings to taxpayers.
Privatization of prisons is an issue that Right on Crime has discussed before. A report by the Reason foundation found that private prisons produce savings of around five to twenty percent, and a study by Vanderbilt University found that “state correctional systems which use private prisons in addition to public prisons experience lower rates of growth in the cost of housing their public prisoners.” Privatization has been suggested and/or implemented in a number of states, and states continue to gather data to evaluate the effectiveness of such programs.