An Audit of Florida's Private Prisons

A new state audit shows Florida shelled out nearly $13 million in over-payments to two companies who run private prisons.

The audit also shows lax administration and manipulation by the state agency that oversees the contract.

The union representing correctional officers wants a criminal investigation.

The abuses were many: payments made for guards no longer employed, maintenance funds used for operating expenses, base salaries were subsidized by money intended to enhance those salaries.

The audit even found that inmate trust fund money from canteen and telephone sales was used to pay for services required under the contract. The PBA, which represents officers in state prisons, has long opposed the private operations.

David Murell of the Florida Police Benevolent Association says, "Just get rid of it, and maybe even better than that, if the feds and the FDLE would come out and look and see if any laws were broken, that would be a good scenario."

The audit shows the Corrections Privatization Commission, which has since been abolished, authorized higher payments from the state to the private prisons, then took kickbacks to keep its staff on the payroll after lawmakers abolished their funding.

Legislators had concerns about the way private prisons were being managed more than a year ago. They transferred the responsibility to the Department of Management Services, and the first thing the department did was ask for the audit.

Tom Lewis, who now heads the agency in charge, calls the audit a success story. Problems were found and addressed.

Tom says, "To the extent we can seek recovery of anything that was improperly paid to a vendor or not rebated to the state. We are going to take every action that we appropriately can to recover it."

Not all of the problems can be fixed until the private prison contracts are up for renewal in 2006. Florida currently contracts for five private prisons. A sixth has been authorized and is on the drawing boards.