Today, the Florida Senate averted disaster by voting down a proposal to create the largest private prison system in America. The plan would have turned over nearly 30 Florida correctional facilities to private, for-profit companies, which have would run the prisons under contract with the state.
Florida operates the third-largest prison system in the United States, a $2.2 billion-a-year enterprise overseeing nearly 101,000 inmates and another 112,800 on community supervision. The prison population has nearly quadrupled since harsh sentencing laws were passed in the 1980s – Florida incarcerated just 26,471 people in 1980.
If lawmakers want to save money in our prison system, they should reform mandatory minimum sentencing, invest in re-entry programs and re-visit parole policies that feed the addiction to incarceration and throw people into the revolving door that is our prison system. Privatization schemes, often coupled with inflated claims of cost savings, distract policymakers from an inescapable truth: The best way to reduce prison spending is to reduce the number of people we imprison.
The defeat of the privatization bill is a victory for Florida. As Julie Ebenstein, Policy & Advocacy Counsel at the ACLU of Florida, explained shortly after the bill’s defeat: “Florida’s prison system needs reform, but private prisons aren’t reform – they deform the process by linking corporate profit to incarceration. The bottom line is that private prisons make money by keeping people in prison when we should be looking for ways to keep them out in the first place.” For more on the problematic incentives injected into incarceration by the profit motive, see Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration, the ACLU’s recent, comprehensive report on the private prison industry.