My private prison investigation E-mail
Written by APB Staff   

Follow the money. Those famous words by "Deep Throat" in the book, All the President's Men, are worth living by. I personally came to realize this in 1997 when I started looking into correctional privatization in Florida. Little did I know that my investigations would lead me into what I call the "black-hole" of prison privatization.

It began at a Florida legislative committee meeting in 1997 with the introduction of a University of Florida professor, Dr. Charles Thomas, as the guru of prison privatization, a consultant for the state, and the director of the Private Corrections Project at the University of Florida. I made the fateful mistake of asking questions about who was funding Thomas' project at UF.

After talking with Thomas about his project, he made it clear he was not going to tell me. Thomas said the funding came through the University of Florida Research Foundation. He suggested that I would need to ask them.

The UF Research Foundation was just as tight-lipped as Thomas.

He said they were a 501(c)(3) support organization and didn't fall under government's Sunshine laws. Dr. Thomas would have to authorize their release.

The red flags were waving. What were they hiding? I went straight to the University of Florida. A friend had given me an internal memo from the University Provost's Office showing that Thomas had received over $78,000 in fiscal year 1995-96 from the for-profit private prison industry.

Using public records I was able to uncover that the private prison industry was funding Dr. Thomas' project while he was determining for the state whether the industry was doing their job. Thomas had taken in over $300,000 from Corrections Corporation of America, Wackenhut (now the GEO Group), Cornell, and others over a four-year period.

My investigation widened to include the executive director of the state agency overseeing private prisons, Mark Hodges. We found out that Hodges and Thomas were in business together. Hodges was running a private consulting business out of his state office.

Again, using public records requests, I uncovered Hodges using his state phone for his private business.

Not only was he calling his clients, but he was billing them over the state fax line and using his state office phone number as his personal business contact number.

I filed ethics complaints against Thomas and then Hodges.

The short story is that filing their ethics complaints against Thomas and Hodges led to their being found guilty, paying fines, and both being removed from their state positions.

The lesson here is that if something doesn't feel right, follow the money, because there is big money being made by the private prison industry. And it's your money they are taking.

Ken Kopczynski is a legislative and political affairs assistant for the Florida Police Benevolent Association. Ken has been working for the PBA for 19 years. He is also the executive director of the Private Corrections Working Group, a clearinghouse on the for-profit private corrections industry:

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