by Jeff Gore
Forgive us for being late on this piece of news – apparently, this occurred just as this reporter was going on vacation – but Florida legislators' plans for prison privatization on a massive scale have come to a screeching halt. As we reported in July, the Police Benevolent Association—an influential law enforcement union of which many correctional officials are members—filed suit against the state, alleging legal wrongdoing in tucking a sweeping prison privatization initiative into the must-pass state budget, rather than putting the policy shift to a vote on the floor of the Legislature.
On Sept. 30, Tallahassee circuit court judge Jackie Fulford agreed.
In her ruling, attached below, Fulford wrote: “[T]his Court concludes that if it is the will of the Legislature to itself initiate privatization of Florida prisons
the Legislature must do so by general law, rather than ‘using the hidden recesses of the General Appropriations Act.” Fulford also wrote that the offending budget proviso—which aimed to privatize 12 prisons, six work-release centers and a handful of corrections annexes and work camps in 18 South Florida counties—is “unconstitutional,” that is, under the state constitution.
Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a proponent of privatization, defended the effort, but obliquely. Haridopolos repeatedly told reporters that the proviso was conducted “in the sunshine,” but evidently did not challenge the Judge’s contention that the method of privatization was unconstitutional.
It’s unclear if the state will appeal in court, or simply put the project on hold (originally, privatization was set to go into effect on Jan. 1 of next year) and hope that the initative can survive a vote on its own merits come next legislative session.
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