March 30, 2011- A powerful member of the Florida Legislature is pushing budget language that would give private corporations the opportunity to run prisons and other corrections operations in 18 of the state’s 67 counties.
Sen. J.D. Alexander, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee, worked the language into the Senate’s budget proposal. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, did so without running the proposal through the normal channels, and this move has triggered a power struggle with Sen. Mike Fasano, chair of the Senate’s Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee.
Fasano, R-New Port Richey, had already signaled that prison privatization was not going to happen in this session of the Legislature. “I’m not pleased,” Fasano told the Miami Herald, after Alexander put the prison language into the budget earlier this week. “It is a huge, substantive issue. It’s a major policy change, and it should have at least been discussed publicly.”
What that means for the future of this prison-privatization idea is anyone’s guess. Under normal circumstances, opposition by the chair of prison appropriations would be the end of such an initiative. But the budget chair carries great influence in the Senate, so Alexander’s action stands a chance — perhaps a good one.
What’s at stake is a lot of money and a lot of jobs. Florida has the third-largest prison population in the nation, with 102,000 individuals behind bars, and Florida’s Department of Corrections has 28,000 employees, most of those prison guards or probation officers.