Will Privatizing Prisons Save Florida Money? Arizona Study Says Maybe Not

Last month, the Florida Legislature passed a landmark plan to privatize nearly all of the prisons in the southern part of the state, including those in Broward and Palm Beach counties. The bill was a thinly veiled stimulus package for the private prison industry, which last year gave nearly $1 million to political campaigns in Florida, according to the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in Politics. The largest chunk of cash by far -- $822,000 -- came from the GEO Group, based in Boca Raton.

Proponents claim the prison outsource plan will save the state nearly $60 million over two years. This is a good sound bite to please fiscally conservative constituents. But a recent

study of prisons in Arizona, conducted by the state auditor, found that private lockups are not necessarily the cheaper option.

According to the New York Times, in Arizona, "The state's own data indicate that inmates in private prisons can cost as much as $1,600 more per year, while many cost about the same as they do in state-run prisons. "

The Reason Foundation, a libertarian organization that receives funding from the GEO Group, quarreled with the Arizona study, saying it "applies creative accounting and ignores healthcare costs."
But in 2007, a University of Utah team reviewed years of research on prisons, and concluded that "cost savings from privatizing prisons are not guaranteed and appear minimal," according to the Times.

All of which raises the question: Who benefits from this massive outsourcing of Florida's prisons -- taxpayers or political donors?

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab