Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island (Pic by Office of Senate President, via flsenate.gov)

This morning, the Huffington Post reported that a private prison company had approached 48 states — of which Florida is one — to trade cash in exchange for contracts to run state prisons.

Via Huffington Post:

Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest operator of for-profit prisons, has sent letters recently to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons as a remedy for “challenging corrections budgets.” In exchange, the company is asking for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Huffington Post.

The move reflects a significant shift in strategy for the private prison industry, which until now has expanded by building prisons of its own or managing state-controlled prisons. It also represents an unprecedented bid for more control of state prison systems.

CCA, which is a significant donor behind Florida legislators, launched a project called the “corrections investment initiative.” In its letter, the group described the intiative as: ”CCA is earmarking $250 million for purchasing and managing government-owned corrections facilities. The program is a new opportunity for federal, state or local governments that are considering the benefits of partnership corrections.”

The Florida Senate is today voting on a bill that would hand over 27 prisons to private corrections companies. Proponents of the measure have said it is necessary to help the state balance its budget and pay for things such as public health services.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that Florida was one of the recipients of this offer.

According to the Times:

Corrections Corporation of America, a Nashville-based private prison contractor, is offering to take some of Florida’s prisons off its hands for a price. In a Jan. 13 letter to Corrections Secretary Ken Tucker, CCA executive vice president Harley Lappin discusses the company’s successful purchase of an 1,800-bed prison in Ohio last year. CCA specifies it is only interested in prisons that are less than 25 years old.

A spokeswoman for Tucker says the state of Florida has not yet responded to CCA’s letter (which can be read here.)

Labor groups, corrections workers, faith groups, tea party members and Republican and Democratic legislators have all denounced the plan. One of the most vocal legislators opposed to the plan, state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said he believed the state Senate was rushing plans to privatize prisons so that a few prison companies — and specifically CCA — “can add to their profits.”

Fasano said last month that the bill “is on a fast track … to accomodate a few companies.”

“They are doing this so that two major private prison companies can add to their profits,” Fasano says, pointing to CCA and The GEO Group as major beneficiaries of privatization.

As The American Independent’s Yana Kunichoff reported last October:

GEO Group, conceived in 1954, is a significant donor to the Republican Party of Florida. In 2010, GEO Group donated $575,500, and through the first two quarters of 2011, it gave $160,000 total, according to the Florida Department of State.

This means that if donations trickle down to an individual candidate, there is little record, said Porter. Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Mike Haridopolos, the most vocal proponents of the privatization bill, have no record of funding from GEO Group in their campaign disclosure statements from the last three years.

After a few weeks of denouncing the state’s plan and even introducing an amendment to kill the prison privatization bill, Fasano was stripped of his chairmanship by Haridopolos, who has been an energetic backer of the bill.

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