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"Private Prisons Don’t Save Dollars and They Don’t Make Sense"

Julie Ebenstein,
Senior Staff Attorney,
Voting Rights Project, ACLU
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February 8, 2012

As Florida considers a bill that would create the largest private, for-profit incarceration system in the nation, some of the nation’s leading criminal justice experts joined me yesterday at a press conference outside the doors to the Florida House of Representatives to share their research showing that locking people away for profit is the wrong answer to Florida’s growing prison population and budget woes.

Speaking out with the ACLU of Florida were David Shapiro, staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project and author of the national report “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,” Dr. Byron Price, professor at Texas Southern University in Houston and author of Merchandizing Prisoners: Who Really Pays for Prison Privatization? and Tracy Velazquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

In addition to highlighting our concerns that private prisons don’t save money, can be less safe and less effective and cut basic services such as medical care, we focused our comments around the basic theme that profit should not be a factor in depriving someone of liberty. As Shapiro told the press corps yesterday, “profit should not be a motive to keep someone in confinement.”

The issue is particularly pressing in Florida as the state 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.

There are simply too many people in prison who do not need to be there, and whose long incarceration does not serve society.

As Dr. Price said at the press conference, “private prisons don’t save dollars and they don’t make sense.” Only reforms that rely less on incarceration make economic, community, safety and civil rights sense. In Florida and nationally, we must continue our efforts by enacting real reforms in sentencing and creating effective diversion and re-entry programs. De-incarceration, not privatization, will save money, keep Florida safe by preventing future crime and protect the rights of all Floridians.

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