Republican to Privatize $600 Million Worth of Florida's Prisons, Could Fatten Contributors' Pockets

As reported in today's Herald, the Florida Senate on Monday "quietly inserted language into its newly proposed budget... that seeks to give corporations a chance to run correctional facilities in 16 counties." These corrections contracts are worth some $600 million.

Though this "quiet insertion" was accomplished by Republicans -- led by J.D. Alexander, the state's Senate budget chief from Lake Wales and presumably overseen by Jeff Atwater, Florida's chief financial officer -- not all GOPers are happy. The Herald quotes Mike Fasano, of the Senate's Criminal Justice Appropriations Comittee, who'd already recommended against the privatization of Florida's prisons:

We made it clear we weren't interested. We moved on without doing it... And now it appears in the budget. I'm not pleased. It's a huge, substantive issue. It's a major policy change, and it should at least have been discussed publicly.

The Herald also mentions one of the leading candidates to win the $600 million contracts, the notorious, human-rights-abusing GEO Group Inc., but neglects to elaborate on the nature of that company. Turns out, GEO Group used to be Wackenhut -- one of the largest private security companies in the world and a genuine home-grown Floridian phenomenon -- and two of its three Floridian board members really, really like contributing to the campaigns of Floridian Republicans.

To be fair, they don't only contribute to Republicans. GEO Chairman George C. Zoley is willing to contribute to the campaign of just about anybody likely to get within easy grabbing distance of Florida's purse strings. He used to contribute to Alex Sink's campaigns back when she was the state's chief financial officer, and now he's a great supporter of Jeff Atwater. Christopher C. Wheeler, late of Proskauer Rose, is an avid Atwater contributor too.

But Zoley's and Wheeler's odd thousands don't mean much compared to the truly staggering sums of money given by GEO Group as a corporate entity. As of 2008, GEO was the 73rd largest contributor to Florida's Republican coffers. What do you suppose are the odds that they won't win the corrections contracts?

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