Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Activist group wants Florida to end for-profit youth prisons

Posted By on Tue, Jun 10, 2014 at 9:48 AM

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Critics contend that privatization of juvenile prisons has had detrimental effects on youth, including high recidivism rates. A report last year from the Huffington Post showed that 40 percent of youth offenders who serve time in Florida’s prisons commit a crime within a year of their release that places them back in jail. 

Among the companies that Huff Po's Chris Kirkham wrote about is Youth Services International, run by James F. Slattery, which manages more than $100 million in contracts in Florida, or about 10 percent of the system. Slattery used to run Correctional Services Corp., a facility that a juvenile judge said was comparable to a "Third World country that is controlled by ... some type of evil power.” The HuffPo investigation also reported that Slattery and other company officials had contributed more than $400,000 to elected officials in Florida in recent years.

That report prompted state Senator Darren Soto (D-Orlando) to call for a legislative hearing on abuses at the state's juvenile prisons run by YSI, but that apparently never took place. 

Now the civil rights activist group ColorOfChange.org is calling on the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (FDJJ) to stop contracting with whom they call "dangerous and corrupt for-profit prison companies."

Specifically, the group is calling on outgoing FDJJ Secretary Wansley Walters to cancel and not renew any contracts with private prisons, particularly with the company G4S , whose contracts — valued at $120 million — are set to expire at the end of the month.

“The time has come for Florida to stand up for its youth and put an end to privatization,” said Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of ColorOfChange. “Before retiring, Secretary Walters has a key opportunity to do what’s best for Florida’s children and the state as a whole. By rejecting private prisons, the Secretary would set a much-needed new standard for the incoming secretary, one that that rejects the exploitation and abuse of children in the name of corporate greed."

"ColorofChange has identified a serious problem in Florida's juvenile justice system, where the care and custody of some of the state's most vulnerable children are contracted out to the lowest bidder for the purpose of generating corporate profit”, said Alex Friedmann, Associate Director of the Human Rights Defense Center in Lake Worth, Florida. “For-profit companies have little incentive to rehabilitate youths, but do have an incentive to cut costs — and thus cut corners — in order to boost their bottom lines. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice needs to heed this call for reform."

A number of other states have ended their support of private prisons. Last year, Kentucky, Texas, Idaho, and Mississippi broke ties with the industry after reports of chronic understaffing, inmate death, and rising costs to the states became too difficult to ignore. A CCA facility in Idaho is currently under investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Rashad Robinson continued, “Time and time again we’ve seen the devastating impact of private prisons on Florida’s criminal justice system. As long as private companies are running the system we will continue to see these problems. Incarceration is not a business, and we refuse to allow the FDJJ to give companies license to harm our communities. Secretary Walters has a choice to make, and rejecting private prison contracts is a much-needed step in the right direction.”

ColorOfChange says in their letter that Kentucky, Texas, Idaho, and Mississippi have ended contracts with private companies in recent years "after reports of chronic understaffing, inmate death, and rising costs to the states became too difficult to ignore."

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