Prison Health Care Privatization Could Mean Jobs Lost in the Panhandle

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Marianna- A legal battle was been brewing in Tallahassee Wednesday over the privatization of prison health care. With a majority of the state's prisons located in the panhandle, any changes could have a huge effect on the local economy.

Jackson County has the third highest inmate population in the state. The changes could mean jobs lost in the area. But at roughly $2 billion a year, the prison health care industry has been an obvious target for privatization by state's like Florida.

State Representative, Mart Coley said a possible incentive for the move would be to save money. However, she also stated reports on whether privatization actually did save money were varied.

The push for privatization has been marketed on the premise of cost efficiency and no government constraints from union workers. Governments across the county have been giving the business a second look and Jackson County has proven to be no exception.

But county commissioner Jeremy Branch has not been a supporter of the proposed change. He told us any move to privatize prison health care would hurt the local economy.

"We don't have a Walt Disney World or NASA" Branch said. "We don't have research centers or a tech sector. These public institutions, these prisons are our factories."

He was also concerned about local job loss. "If you have 20 years, you're not at full retirement yet. You have not reached full funding of your pension with the Florida retirement system and so you're future is now in upheaval."

But Coley said it may be possible many of the workers could still keep their jobs with the companies that took over prison health care.

"My understanding is that in some of the other agencies, or in some of the other institutions that have privatized particular departments, those employees have opted into the private provider and are doing well" Coley said.

Wednesday, state lawmakers supported Governor Rick Scott's proposal to privatize 3000 prison health care jobs by January. Union officials representing the workers said they planned to file a lawsuit against the privatization.

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