Smart Justice Alliance (SJA) Gives Presentation To The Senate Criminal Justice Committee

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January 15, 2013

The following editorial is in response to the ongoing effort to privatize Florida state prisons.

By: Christina Bullins

Oh where to begin?

The Smart Justice Alliance (SJA) gave a presentation today to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. It should have been called, “The taxpayers build it and they come”. First of the all the SJA calls itself an advocacy group to promote public safety and to save taxpayers dollars. The founding chair of SJA is the president to a non-profit who operates private work release facilities and the president of SJA is the lobbyist for the non-profit! They are advocating of course for our public safety and to save our tax-dollars! How kind. For the most part the legislators listened intently.

So what are their proposals?

1. That DOC contract out the 3 vacant recently built prisons and utilize them as “reentry prions”. Bishop today said himself that DOC spent TENS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS building these prisons. The last prison was completed in October 2012 and they have stood empty due to the legislature not appropriating money for the operations of the prisons. So I ask why were the prisons built? Who authorized the building of these prisons and why is it that the 3 prisons fall in lockstep with SJA’s agenda? Citizens should be asking if DOC has sacrificed or lowered any level of service to offset the costs of these prisons.

2. Contract out more work release facilities. DOC currently contracts out 6 private work release facilities. State inmates (felons) are often transferred frequently a year or so before their end of sentence date from the regular prisons and into work release facilities. Non-profits such as Goodwill and Bridges of America run the facilities and have mission statements that involve statements such as providing a therapeutic environment and treating the disease of addiction. There is nothing in their mission about the ability or MISSION regarding the care, custody and control of the state inmates in their charge. You have probably most recently heard about Largo Work Release in Tampa due to the inmate who escaped and committed a double homicide or about the inmate who about 3 weeks later went out and raped a girl. Regarding the reporting of the double murder,the media advised that St. Pete police told them that the facility never tells them when an inmate escapes. One of the reporters was frustrated that the facility kept stating that the inmate left for work that morning but when the reporter called the employer he told her that the inmate was not due in to work until the evening. So this leads to me what you need to know about the contracting of work release facilities. Private prisons are contracted out by DMS at the direction of the legislature while work release facilities are contracted out by DOC at the direction of ? Governor Scott. Per contract the work release facility is NOT required to employ FDLE Certified Correctional Officers who have the authority to use force to stop an escape and who can cuff an inmate to conduct a contraband search. The media reported that DOC went to Largo Work Release recently after Senator Latvala made a stink about the facility to conduct a random search. As a result of the search, 12 inmates were immediately shipped back to the regular prison. Each private work release facility has an assigned public prison that could be 50 miles away that is responsible for the medical, dental, medicines for the work release inmates as well as the drug testing supplies for the inmate drug testing program. We build it, we build it brand new, we search it, we pay for the most expensive aspects of incarceration and the private facility provides help finding a job and a therapeutic environment. The care, custody and control? Well I’m not sure who pays for that or the lack thereof.

3. Close down a couple of prisons to offset all the shiny new beds we built and will contract out. These non-profits have to have plenty of money for high dollar lobbyist and campaign contributions so they do the job with less people with less money. The community suffers because now we have raised the unemployment rate, raised the underemployment rate and raised the uninsured rate. The presentation by SJA actually lists that the addition of private sector jobs is a benefit! Of course this all supports Governor Scott’s goal of reducing state employees. In case you were not aware, Florida has for many years been dead last in the nation for the least amount of state employees per capita and for the lowest amount paid for the state employees.

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