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Plan to privatize South Florida prisons advances

As the House Appropriations Committee debates a $66.5-billion budget proposal, the most spirited debate involved a proposal to privatize prison and probation operations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Private prisons are nothing new -- the state has seven -- but privatizing the supervision of probationers is uncharted territory. (The panel approved the budget on a 15-8 party line vote).

"This subject probably hasn't been addressed anywhere in the nation," said Jim Baiardi, president of the Florida PBA's correctional officers chapter, who testified in opposition. "Where we're thinking of going is truly terrible for public safety." 

Rep. Martin Kiar, D-Davie, tried to abolish the privatization language but failed on a 14-9 vote. Rep. Will Snyder, R-Stuart, joined all eight committee Democrats in voting against privatization. The only South Florida Republican on the committee, Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, the House majority leader, voted for privatization.

Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, who chairs the budget subcommittee for prisons, emphasized that the privatization idea is a "proposal" and must be approved by a 14-member Joint Legislative Budget Commission. "When you have less money, you can't continue to do business as usual," he said. 

The Department of Corrections did not propose the privatization and is "neutral" on the concept, Deputy Secretary Dan Ronay says.

-- Steve Bousquet