Florida Prison Reform Bill Wins Narrow Approval

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In a blow to the private prison industrial complex, a bill sponsored by Florida Representative David Richardson won committee approval on Tuesday.

In a 7-6 vote, the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee approved Richardson’s request to shift oversight of seven private prisons to one governmental agency. Richardson, an openly gay Democrat from Miami Beach, has spent the last two years investigating the prisons. He recommended transferring operational oversight from the Department of Management Services to the Department of Corrections.

A certified forensic accountant, Richardson told the Miami Herald private prisons have had the DMS “hoodwinked” for years.

“We have found inflated pricing, tremendous performance problems and cost-cutting measures that were unsafe and wasting taxpayer money,” Richardson told the Herald.

Conditions at the Gadsden Correctional Facility in North Florida had deteriorated to the point where Richardson asked Governor Rick Scott to use emergency powers to take over the prison.

In another investigation into the Lake City Correctional Facility, Richardson discovered the state had overpaid the contractor more than $16 million.

“Today I accomplish something that hasn’t been done in a long time,” Richardson posted on Facebook late Tuesday evening. “I stood up to the private prison industrial complex and called out the misdeeds of state agencies and themselves. Even as a member of the minority party, I persuaded my colleagues to join me in calling for reform in the way the private prison contracts are negotiated, awarded and managed. It is long past due for Floridians to be in charge of their tax dollars. My bill passed by ONE vote, but a victory is a victory. Today, I had Goliath against me, but my name is David! Today, David won!”

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