The Florida Senate defeated a plan on Tuesday to move 14,500 inmates into private lockups, the second consecutive year that Republican leaders who support the measure came up short.
The two largest prison contractors in the United States — Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corp. of America Inc. and Boca Raton, Fla.-based Geo Group Inc. — had expressed interest in bidding. The plan would have offered a contract as long as five years to run 27 prisons and work camps that Florida spends $268 million a year operating and maintaining. The companies operate six of the state’s seven privately run prisons.
Florida’s proposal was “the largest single contract procurement in the history of our industry,” Geo Chief Executive George Zoley said in an August conference call with investors.
The Senate shot down the proposal on a 21-19 vote.
As Florida and other states struggle with the aftermath of the 18-month recession that began in December 2007, the sale of assets and the shifting of traditional responsibilities to companies has increased. Since 2005, the number of state prisoners in private lockups nationwide increased 16.7 percent, while the total prison population increased 4.1 percent, according to U.S. Justice Department data.
The defeated bill was pitched as a $16.5 million savings for Florida, which is attempting to close at least a fifth consecutive year of shortfalls. Debate on Tuesday in Tallahassee, the capital, showed senators divided on whether companies run prisons more efficiently than the state.
Florida, which oversees the third-largest inmate population, has about 11,000 in privately run prisons. Texas, with 15,000, has the country’s biggest private-prison population, according to state and federal data.
Florida’s total population of 104,306 prisoners trails only California’s 165,062 and Texas’s 173,649, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
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