Prison privatization blocked after court's ruling

After a long and drawn out battle by the Florida Legislature to privatize prisons in 18 counties, Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford ruled that doing so would be against the state’s constitution. In her six-page decision that chided lawmakers for their lack of foresight, she stated that such a change would violate a previous privatization law – specifically, the part of the law that would order the Department of Corrections to seek proposals from private vendors. She also added that the legislature had failed to weigh the pros and cons of such a dramatic change, and also put heavy emphasis that while privatization of prisons is legal, the way the legislature went about it was totally wrong. With such a ruling, the establishment of 29 private prisons in 18 countries was blocked.

“Under existing substantive law, a specific legislative appropriation must be made for a proposed privatization contract,” Fulford wrote in her ruling. “If it is the will of the Legislature to itself initiate privatization of Florida prisons, as opposed to DOC (Department of Corrections), the Legislature must do so by general law, rather than ‘using the hidden recesses of the General Appropriations Act.’ ”

Bloomberg Newsweek noted that shortly after Fulford’s ruling, Geo Group, one of the three vendors up for selection to operate the prisons, watched their stocks fall 5 percent. The company, before the ruling was made final, “said last month that it would invest as much as $3 million to compete for a contract to privatize more than 16,000 beds in South Florida.”

The decision however, was “a victory for the Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA), the union for correctional officers, which filed the suit in hopes of saving the jobs of several thousand correctional officers.”

“We believe justice has been served for the 4,000 men and women who faced the prospect of privatization,” PBA executive director Matt Puckett said. “It validates what the PBA has been saying all along – the Legislature is not above the law.”

The state is currently in the process of evaluating whether or not they will appeal the ruling.

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