Private Firm Benefits From Fla. Jail Expansion

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At the Hernando County Jail in Brooksville, Fla., some inmates sleep on stacked bunks or on cots. The St. Petersburg Times says the sprawling arrangement cuts into the living space allotted to each inmate so much that the jail is in violation of state and industry standards, according to jail officials. Holding cells, 13.5 feet by 8 feet, sometimes house up to 30 detainees. Those cells were meant for at most half that many. Because of the space crunch, segregation of the hardest criminals is all but impossible. The greater the crowding, the greater the likelihood of disciplinary problems.

Under a planned jail expansion, the county has issued $11,095,000 in bonds to create capacity for 242 new beds in addition to the existing 302. Interest on the bonds will bring the total cost of the project to about $17.5-million.

The jail is owned by the county. But since it opened in 1988, it has been run by Corrections Corporation of America. The company charges the county a fixed, daily rate for each inmate it houses. Some critics call the jail expansion nothing more than a huge public subsidy of a private company. After the expansion, CCA will not only benefit by housing more county inmates, who have priority, but also could see as much as $2-million in the first year from putting federal detainees in some of the beds created.

Current trends indicate that in three to five years, county inmates will fill the beds CCA will initially use for federal detainees. “We have to have the facilities,” said county official Jim Gantt, who heads the jail expansion project. “If the mind-set of the public is to put people in jail, we need to have a place to put them.”

When harsher sentencing and stricter laws came into vogue in the 1980s, CCA took advantage. Founded in Nashville, Tenn., in 1983, the company now runs 64 corrections facilities in 20 states and the District of Columbia. It reported a net income of nearly $142 million in 2003.

Link: http://www.sptimes.com/2004/05/18/Hernando/Larger_jail_to_benefi.shtml

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