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Florida moves forward with prison healthcare privatization

AP Photo/John Raoux
Florida Department of Corrections

The Florida Department of Corrections is moving ahead with plans to privatize healthcare services for inmates, a move opposed by public employee unions.

In addition to cost savings, Florida Department of Corrections Spokeswoman Ann Howard says the transition will allow them to still maintain state and federal standards when dealing with private entities.

“They fall under the provision of they are now subject to public records laws, just like we are, so we will have purview over them, there are criteria that must be met, standards that must be met.," Howard said.

Following the departments bidding process, a Tennessee based company called Corizon Inc. was chosen to provide services in Northwest and Central Florida while Pennsylvania based Wexford Health Sources will serve institutions in South Florida. The state’s move to privatize health care services is expected to spark even more lawsuits, even though a Leon County judge refused to rule on a challenge by unions representing nurses who work in the prison system. Back in May, Steve Turner, the lawyer for the Florida nurses Association argued before the judge that the way the Legislature placed what’s known as proviso language into the state budget to privatize prisons, was unconstitutional.

"That’s what we’re talking about here because the procurement was taken because of an invalid proviso,” said Turner.

But representing the state, Jon Glogau with the Attorney General’s Office said there was nothing invalid about it.

“The only thing we have in this case is the Legislature saying ‘we have a judge hole in the budget, and one way we’re going to fill that hole is we’re going to contract with a private entity.’”

Earlier this month, Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll ruled the issue was moot because the state budget provision authorizing the privatization had expired.  Now Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker is moving forward with the privatization plan even though it required approval by the Legislative Budget Commission, which hasn’t even touched the issue.  Corrections spokeswoman Ann Howard, says at this point they’ve posted their intent to award the bids and they feel it’s the right move for the state.

“Eventually we are going to start seeing a seven percent savings in excess of, when it comes to healthcare in the prison systems.”

Florida runs the third largest prison system in the nation.