[Tallahassee, FL] The results are in: the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) is corrupt, according to its former chairwoman, a former Republican State Senator. Former chairwoman Nancy Argenziano says that corporate interests have turned the PSC into a cash machine to the great expense of friends and families of those incarcerated within the state of Florida.
In Septemeber 2010, Argenziano resigned in disgust at what the Public Service Commission had become after S.B. 2626 removed the caps on the state’s phone service providers (“operator services”).
Argenziano condemned, “the corruption, the bought-and-sold nature of everything related to the operation of the PSC … [there was a] universal expectation that if you audition well, PSC employees and commissioners will be rewarded with lucrative jobs with the utilities.”
A year earlier, the Public Service Commission handed a large financial gift (Docket No. 060476-TL) to the phone service providers when it ruled that prison phone call rates would no longer have a cap.
Unfortunately, very little in terms of checks and balances exists between the regulators and the regulated. And it will only get worse under privatization, favored by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration and Florida’s eager-to-please lawmakers.
Recent reports show that in a private prison in nearby Lumpkin, Georgia, facility operator Correction Corporation Of America (CCA) charges prisoners five dollars per minute for phone use. To put it in perspective: inmates make one dollar per day working at the facility.
ThinkProgress reports that the phone charges CCA’s Lumpkin prison is collecting from its 2,000 detainees helped pad the facility’s “net profits of $35 to $50 million a year.”
According to FOX Business, private, for profit prisons are big business. CCA, the Subway of private prisons, made $1.7 billion in revenues last year. The McDonald’s of private prisons – The GEO Group, headquartered in Boca Raton – saw $1.3 billion in revenues in 2010.
The GEO Group’s world headquarters in Boca Raton
That’s why many say that privatizing prisons is such a bad idea. Huge corporations, opponents say, will always side with revenue over civil rights, proper prisoner treatment and moral obligations one has when detaining people.
Yet Gov. Scott and the Florida Legislature are hell bent on privatizing Florida’s prisons, especially in Region IV (South Florida). So far, the courts have kept them at bay, but the state is appealing that ruling.
The private prison companies are excited about the prospect.
“The State of Florida is considering the privatization of 29 state owned correctional facilities, work camps and work release centers in South Florida and GEO is excited for the opportunity to grow in Florida,” says the text on the The GEO Group website. “Our World Headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida is located … less than a two hour drive away from almost every facility in Region IV.”
Dial Tone Deaf
Already – thanks to the Public Service Commission playing ball with phone service operators – Florida has some pretty steep rates for prison phone use.
According to Prison Legal News:
- Monroe County (ICSolutions): local calls $2.25, long distance calls $1.75 + $.30/minute
- Escambia County: local $2.25, intrastate $1.75 + $0.30/minute, interstate $4.99 + $0.89/minute
- Lake County: local $2.25, interstate $3.95 + $0.45/minute
- Gadsden County: local $2.25, intrastate $1.85 + $.50/minute, interstate $2.85 + $.50/minute
- Broward County (Securus): local $2.35, intrastate $1.75 + $0.30/minute, interstate $3.66 + $0.59/minute
Prison Legal News also points out that “Florida jail prisoners are subject to long distance rates ranging from $6.25 to $18.34 for a 15-minute collect call at the above facilities, representing an almost 300% difference between the lowest and highest rates, even when such calls are made from jails within the same state.”
By: Mark Christopher/Sunshine Slate
Images: The GEO Group
Public Service Commission