Florida Legislator: Private Prison’s Charges Inflated by $16 Million

Private-run prisons are intended to save  money, yet taxpayers on the hook for millions in over payments for Lake City Correctional Facility in Florida.
Private-run prisons are intended to save  money, yet taxpayers on the hook for millions in over payments for Lake City Correctional Facility in Florida.

By Christopher Zoukis

A Florida state representative claims the operator of a private prison has overcharged the state Department of Corrections by at least $16 million over the past seven years.

Rep. David Richardson, who holds an MBA degree and was an auditor for the Defense Department, an accountant with Ernst & Young, and ran his own practice before Miami Beach residents elected him to the state Legislature in 2012, says Tennessee-based CoreCivic, formerly known as the Corrections Corporations of America, benefited from state officials’ errors or worse in the contract it received to run the state’s Lake City Correctional Facility, which houses almost 900 male offenders between the ages of 19 and 24.

The legislator says he has not uncovered any wrongdoing by the private firm, since they are billing the state corrections department in line with data submitted by that agency and according to contract terms negotiated by the state’s Department of Management Services. But poor negotiating and supervision have given the private firm a contract that has resulted in the state making substantial overpayments in a number of areas.

For example, according to Richardson’s analysis of the contract and related bills and payments, the Lake City facility, constructed by the state in 1997 but leased to the private firm for the past seven years, includes air conditioning, unlike many older prisons. Yet the contract with CoreCivic makes the state, rather than the company, responsible for covering the costs of running that system, and has meant millions in charges to taxpayers.

At the state-run Brevard Correctional, another, slightly larger facility for youthful offenders, Richardson notes, the state’s daily outlays per inmate for certain activities amounted to $3.62; atLake City, however, the contract had the state paying nearly three times that amount — $9.85 – daily for each inmate. Inconsistencies in the contract favoring the private firm brought it allowances for educational programs about four times larger than state-operated ones received.

Ironically, the state Legislature authorized state corrections officials to contract with private prison firms as a way to save money; the authority to privatize some state correctional facilities was conditioned on the state saving 7 percent or more by contracting out. But Richardson claims his review shows that errors and poor negotiations by state officials have produced added state payments that have far outstripped any savings from privatization.

Since joining the legislature, Richardson has made the state’s criminal justice system a major focus, and has made scores of visits to facilities around the state. A state law allows legislators to visit and inspect state prisons at any time.

After compiling what he says was an independent audit of the Lake City contract and cost outlays last spring, Richardson presented a summary of his findings to budget committees of the state Legislature and asked the state’s chief inspector general to look into the issues he had raised. Nevertheless, the state renewed its Lake City prison contract with CoreCivic last summer, making it the company’s third contract extension.

Besides CoreCivic’s contract to run Lake City, other private prison firms currently have contracts to run six other state correctional facilities.

Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com.