Arduin omitted key facts about her private prison past

Donna Arduin, budget director for the moment, corrected Sen. Bill Wielechowski on how to pronounce her name in a hearing Friday, always a sign of a short-timer.

She also corrected him when he said that she had been a member of the board of the GEO group.

The GEO Group is a private prison operation headquartered in Florida, one of Arduin's home states.

"It's Arduin senator and I was not on the board of GEO. I have no connection with private prisons and I have not had any conversations with them,” she told Wielechowski.

In her reply, Arduin omitted key facts about her private prison past.

Yes, Wielechowski was in error when he said she was on the GEO board. But she did serve on the board of a spinoff of the GEO Group—Correctional Properties Trust, later known as the CentraCore Properties Trust.

She was named to this spinoff in 2004, less than two weeks after she left her temporary state budget job in California under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“GEO created Correctional Properties in 1998 as a real estate investment trust. Correctional Properties owns prisons; GEO operates them and makes lease payments to its spinoff," the Los Angeles Times reported in 2005.

The reason for the Times story was that the “Schwarzenegger administration has quietly moved to reopen two private prisons a year after mothballing them—and after a company that stands to profit retained consultants close to the governor and his inner circle.”

“Arduin and administration officials said that when Arduin was finance director, she had no hand in deciding whether to reopen the nonunion private prisons,” the Times said.

At the time Arduin said there was no conflict of interest because the California contract was with GEO, not with the spinoff she worked for.

In a detailed report in 2011 about Arduin’s past in California and Florida with private prisons, the Center for Media and Democracy noted that when she worked for former Florida Gov. Rick Scott she championed a plan for a multi-billion-dollar budget cut, including privatizing prisons.

The Florida plan would cut prison costs by paying lower wages to corrections officers and having inmates grow their food. It faced court challenges and legislative opposition.

“These Republican lawmakers, for whatever reason, simply could not be convinced that trading more than 3,500 state jobs for negligible savings though privatization -- at a time when both the state prison population and economy were virtually static -- was a good idea,” the Center for Media and Democracy said.

A study by the Sentencing Project says, “Today, Florida has eight privately-run prison facilities. The GEO Group has its headquarters in Boca Raton and runs five of the facilities. In addition to adult prisons, 95% of Florida’s juvenile facilities are privately owned. In 2012, Governor Rick Scott and the Florida State Senate narrowly failed to pass a bill to privatize all adult correctional facilities.”

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