Wardens from seven Florida prisons were at the Capitol Wednesday for a panel discussion with the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, where they painted a picture of heightened stress and diminished safety for employees and inmates alike.
Some of the main problems wardens say are plaguing prisons in the state are high employee turnover, aging facilities and lack of programming for inmates.
Darryl Collins is warden of Madison County Correctional Institution. He says the turnover rate for correctional officers there is 51 percent.
“It’s also affected the numbers and emerging trends on inmate-on-inmate violence. We had 72 incidents that were related to gang violence, extortion and contraband. 42 of those incidents required outside medical treatment,” Collins said.
Collins says there were 30 incidents of inmate-on-correctional officer violence last year. He adds lack of staffing contributed to 461 cases of contraband like weapons, drugs and cell phones entering the prison. That in turn puts inmates at risk.
“These contraband issues have led to the rise on inmate-on-inmate assaults,” Collins said. “They request protection, when the inmates in our facility don’t feel safe on our compound.”
With fewer employees, the existing workers have to work longer and more intense hours. Joe Edwards is warden of the Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler.
“The 12-hour shifts are not conducive to the correctional institution environment. The staff we do have are forced into a pressure cooker situation of stress and fatigue as they are mandated to work extended days on a highly-frequent basis,” Edwards said. “At RMC, that’s averaging weekly. And (they) are also mandated to work at least two of their scheduled days off every pay period.”
Several wardens reported dilapidated building conditions. Tony Anderson, warden of Union Correctional Institution, described the situation there.
“Because of the age of the facility, the biggest issue we face is leaking roofs,” Anderson said. “We have several buildings that have been closed including dorms, due to severe water damage.”
And, giving inmates a path to learn and use their time productively is compromised by staffing woes. Wardens of both Dade and Polk Correctional Institutions say they each have one teacher assigned for education programs — compared to well over 1,000 inmates at both facilities. Jose Colon is the warden of Dade Correctional.
“With little programs available, these offenders have a lot of idle time. And with idle time, comes a lot of negative behavior,” Colon said.
Educational programming is perhaps the most effective tool in giving those incarcerated better outcomes when they get out, according to Colon:
“Of the 1,582 inmates currently assigned, 245 have life sentences – leaving 1,337 reentering back into society to be my neighbor and your neighbors – and your family’s neighbors. If we can provide more programs, this will reduce recidivism and assist these men in re-entering society as a better, more productive citizen.”
Governor Ron DeSantis is proposing $2.7 billion dollars in funding for DOC for the upcoming fiscal year. It’s coming off a nearly $80 million deficit in the current fiscal year.