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After report outlines private prison problems, lawmakers demand fixes

NewsAfter report outlines private prison problems, lawmakers demand fixes

TALLAHASSEE – After a report outlined a pattern of failed oversight and compliance within Florida’s private prison system, a bipartisan group of lawmakers threatened contracts and questioned whether the bureau responsible for preventing such problems should still serve in that function.

“Let’s have an agreement,” Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Hollywood, the alternating chair of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, told a Department of Management Services official. “With our help with the contracts, all these [problems] have to be resolved by November.” 

Pizzo requested copies of the private prison contracts – saying he bets there’s a lot of claw backs and teeth in the language. 

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This came after the committee hespanrd spann spanuditing report presentspantion Thursday of the Bureau of Private Prison Monitoring, which is within the Department of Management Services.

The report, published June 2022, outlined seven areas where the bureau and the three contracted private prison providers it’s tasked with overseeing fell short.

The three providers operate Bay Correctional Facility, Blackwater River Correctional Facility, Graceville Correctional Facility, Moore Have Correctional Facility, South Bay Correctional Facility, Gadsden Correctional Facility and Lake City Youthful Offender Facility. Lawmakers in the report primarily focused on issues in the adult facilities.

The bureau did not always issue written notices of noncompliance to the prisons, according to the report.

Among the multiple cases of noncompliance identified, maintenance issues were not followed up on for 17 months at Gadsden Correctional Institute and key personnel were not provided proper radio equipment for three months. 

Auditing records additionally indicated that the company overseeing GCI couldn’t demonstrate that key security personnel had received appropriate training for five months.

The report also found that the bureau did not ensure that the three private prison providers had all the required insurance coverage, which those three providers — CoreCivic of Tennessee, LLC, GEO Group Inc. and Management and Training Corporation — did not. 

It also detailed how the private prisons were insufficiently monitored, from their maintenance activities, to their health care services, to their facility staffing.

The report researchers reviewed 60 of the thousands of incident reports filed from July 2018 to February 2020 – reports that are required after incidents such as inmate altercations with staff or outside medical attention being required. They found no evidence that the bureau reviewed or verified any of those 60 reports.

Meanwhile, over the same time period, fines for noncompliance dramatically dropped by hundreds of thousands of dollars, going from $484,750 in July 2017-June 2018 to $58,500 in July 2018-June 2019. The next year’s total fines: $23,500.

“Probably can’t explain today why there was such a significant drop other than that the fact that leadership at the time was trying to resolve these issues rather than just continuing to send out [fines],” said Patrick Gillespie, the Department of Management Services’  deputy secretary of business operations.

Matthew Tracy, deputy auditor general of the State Government Audits Division, said none of the findings had been fully corrected as of December 2022.

Rep. Mike Caruso, R-Delray Beach, the committee’s other alternating chair, said the Nov. 1 deadline stated by Pizzo was “more than sufficient.”

“If things aren’t addressed as we have asked, we will take oversight of those private-run facilities away from [the bureau],” Caruso said.

Pizzo asked Gillespie if he would object to the Legislature giving that responsibility to the Florida Department of Corrections. Gillespie said the department is “neutral” on that, adding, “We’ll certainly implement anything that’s passed into law.”

Lawmakers acknowledged state-run prisons have problems, too. The Florida National Guard hspand to be sent in last year to address significant understaffing, and state prison officials are requesting billions of dollspanrs more for its budget next year.

“The situation there is dire and awful too,” Pizzo said. “But I don’t need to tell you this feeds into the conversation and narrative about private prison facilities when we’re talking about private contracts. If they can’t perform the contract, that’s an issue.”

CORRECTION

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