TALLAHASSEE — Top officials overseeing Florida prisons said Friday they will not lay off correctional officers as part of this year's $3.6 billion budget crunch, dealing a setback to Gov. Rick Scott's plan to overhaul the system by firing hundreds of those workers.
Edwin Buss, new secretary of the Department of Corrections, said that rather than layoffs, the agency will leave positions vacated by officers unfilled.
"Through attrition, as people retire, we won't fill their positions," Buss said in an interview.
The agency employs about 21,000 correctional officers with about 350 jobs turning over each month. By that math, 4,200 correction officers jobs would be eliminated in one year of attrition.
Republican Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey, chairman of the Senate committee that oversees money for criminal and civil justice, said he will release a plan next week that will not move inmates to private prisons, thus eliminating the need to fire correctional workers.
"It is unwise to do that when you already have thousands of beds that are unoccupied at the state-owned facilities," he said. "When it comes to correctional officers, there won't be any layoffs whatsoever."
Scott has proposed eliminating more than 600 correctional officer positions and using the proceeds to pay for a wide array of new programs to teach inmates to become more productive citizens.
Another side has yet to weigh in on the debate: the House.
Fasano's budget plan would include Scott-recommended layoffs for administrative workers and some higher-ranking employees, like deputy and assistant wardens, he said. And some correctional officers could be transferred or reassigned as part of consolidating regions.
Fasano said he will release his plan for committee discussion Tuesday. He expects to cut $300 million to $350 million overall.
He also plans to trim the budget of the First District Court of Appeal by 6 percent as punishment for its "bad behavior" in building the courthouse known as Tallahassee's "Taj Mahal." The cutback would result in five layoffs. The other four district courts of appeal will be spared from cuts, he said.
"We will endeavor to perform our constitutional mission with whatever resources the Legislature is able to provide," First DCA Chief Judge Robert Benton wrote in an e-mail.
Times senior correspondent Lucy Morgan contributed to this report.