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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Amid growing concerns about security, Scott asks lawmakers for money to hire more prison staff



Faced with declining morale and reports of increasingly unsafe conditions brought on by understaffing at Florida's prisons, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday increased his budget request and announced he will seek an additional $4.3 million to hire total of 734 officers at the troubled agency, nearly double what he had requested before the critical reports.

The decision comes after an independent audit commissioned by the Florida Legislature found that the state's prisons are significantly understaffed, faced with turnover rates of nearly 50 percent and some of the most dangerous prisons have a majority of corrections officers with less than two-years experience. Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones acknowledged to a Senate committee Monday that a near-riot occurred last week at a North Florida prison that was not appropriately staffed.

The governor had previously asked for money to hire 472 new corrections officers. But he has continued to maintain that there is no need to increase salaries at the agency, despite massive turnover. 

“Our recommendation to increase FDC’s budget by $82 million this year, and these additions in staffing, will help us continue to reduce recidivism in our state while increasing safety at all Florida correctional facilities,'' Scott said in a statement. He made no mention of the agency or his budget request when he delivered his annual assessment of how the state is doing, the State of the State speech, before the Florida Legislature on Tuesday morning
In his statement, the governor acknowledged that "the safety and security of our prisons is incredibly important" and the request for for additional officers "will make our institutions safer for inmates, agency staff and communities."

Last year, FDC underwent three separate reviews conducted by correctional facilities operations experts and details emerged that raised questions about the state's investment in the agency, as well as the way the department has managed its staff. To save money and reduce the size of the state workforce, a priority of Scott, the agency has had corrections officers work 12-hour shifts instead of eight-hour shifts.

Each of the audits recommended that agency return to eight-hour shifts, a change that will force the state to spend at least $4.3 million and hire 734 new officers.  

“Many of the critical issues facing our Department are a result of outcomes caused by our current 12-hour model. Poor staff retention, increasing overtime expenditures, introduction of contraband, and staffing shortages are all due in some part to the officer fatigue and burnout associated with 12-hour shifts,'' Jones said in the statement. She said that if the Legislature approves the added money, it will create "a more stable and positive environment for our employees and inmates.”

For rank and file staff, however, the decision will likely impose another financial hit on them. They have not seen a salary increase in 10 years and, for many officers, the change will also result in more commutes to the prisons, which are often located in rural areas.

"It is bad enough that we have not received a true raise in a decade,'' one officer wrote the Miami Herald, "but now we will lose the benefit of spending time with our family every other weekend for most of us."


[Last modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2016 6:48pm]


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