Florida Warned to End Private Health Contracts with Prisons

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Photo by Joelk75 via Flickr

In a stunning rebuke of the decade-long push to privatize Florida prisons, an independent audit says the state is losing money and facing litigation because of its decision to turn its prison health care system over to private contractors, the Miami Herald reports.

The audit recommends the state end its private health care contract and either bring the work in-house or initiate an agreement to obtain health care through the university system’s teaching hospitals.

The state would save $40 million to $46 million a year, said CGL Companies, a national prison consulting firm that conducted the audit.

Those savings would come as the Florida Department of Corrections is beset by problems, from rapid turnover and inexperienced corrections officers to crumbling facilities and an inmate population that is increasingly violent, drug-addicted and prone to mental illness.

In October, Corrections Secretary Mark Inch warned that the “status quo is not sustainable” and asked the legislature for $113 million to increase pay and retain officers, reduce overtime, and fill vacancies.

For the first time, the auditors show how many problems have been self-imposed by the state. In the last 10 years, former Gov. Rick Scott and state legislators extracted millions from the prison system, first by shifting from 8- to 12-hour shifts to cut 3,700 jobs, then with a push to privatize prisons and prison health care.

The audit spells out how the short-term savings between 2011 and 2014 are now costing taxpayers millions and leading to settlements from successful inmate class-action lawsuits. “The contracts the department entered into between 2012 and 2015, while they saved substantial amounts of money, resulted in substantial reductions in service,’’ said Karl Becker of CGL Companies, an author of the audit.

“Those savings that you achieved during that time, you are probably paying for now” through lawsuits and increased costs, he said.

For more on Florida’s troubled efforts to enact justice reforms, listen to audio reports from TCR’s conference last month at the University of Florida, Gainesville.

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