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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Both House and Senate budgets omit new staff for troubled prison agency



Julie JonesDespite reports by three independent auditors that turnover and understaffing at Florida's prison system has created a security risk throughout the state, neither the House nor Senate budget proposals give the governor his request to hire 734 additional corrections officers.

Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones made the request for for $18.4 million in December, amending the governor's original proposal which actually asked for more money for staffing needs -- $28 million. Jones said 734 new officers were needed to allow the agency to transition from 12-hour shifts to 8-hour shifts after the audits concluded that the long hours contribute to staff fatigue, inmate-on-inmate violence, and "allegations of inmate abuse, mistreatment, and staff misconduct."

The governor's first draft of his budget, released in October, asked for $28 million to hire 272 additional staff and provide enough money to pay overtime to allow for critical posts to be sufficiently staffed during periods of both planned and unplanned staff absences. The audits showed that prison security is at serious risk because critical posts are frequently left unmanned or understaffed.

But rather than heed those requests, the initial budget proposal from the Senate authorizes 23,892 total positions at the department -- the same number authorized this budget year, but also sets aside $4.3 million in "salary incentive payments" for current employees. The House's proposed budget gave the agency 184 additional positions, for a total of 24,076 -- far short of what the agency was seeking. 

If the agency wants to hire more positions, both the House and Senate include identical language allowing Jones to ask the Legislative Budget Commission for money to hire more staff -- but only if the inmate population increases. There is no mention of dealing with existing staff shortages. 
Judging by the comments by Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Senate leaders, this is clearly an opening position in the month-long dance to complete the state's $80 billion budget.
Gardiner has repeatedly mentioned the need for more spending on prisons in his list of spending needs that must be balanced against Gov. Rick Scott's call for $1 billion in tax cuts.
So it appears legislative leaders may be attempting to send the governor a message. Scott has used television commercials and a statewide bus tour to pressure legislators to adopt his $1 billion tax cut package and his call for $250 million for economic development projects. But the Senate budget does not include an additional cut of corporate taxes for manufacturing, his top priority, and while the House tax package will provide make the existing manufacturing tax cut permanent, it does not set aside the money for economic development as the governor requested.  
The House and Senate budget plans use identical language to impose some new requirements on the governor's troubled prison agency. They require FDC to report to complete a report by next year, demonstrating that the agency has eliminated overlapping positions. The two chambers are also ordering up a $500,000 study it calls a "resource allocation analytics project for the purpose of analyzing and mitigating inmate deaths and reducing recidivism rate."
Photo: FDC Secretary Julie Jones

[Last modified: Saturday, January 30, 2016 4:53pm]


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