The Florida Department of Corrections is asking state legislators to increase its budget so it can address long-standing issues with the treatment of correctional officers and prisoners.
Secretary of Corrections Mark Inch says his officers are leaving their jobs almost as soon as they are hired. He says this is causing high vacancies that spread his department too thin. During this week’s House Justice Appropriations Committee, Inch told lawmaker the problem stems from prior budget cuts.
He lists aging infrastructure and an increased rate of inmate on inmate violence as part of the result.
“Correctional officer turnover increased 150% and officers with less than two years of experience increased by 67%. The median years of service for correctional officers is 2.2 years,” Inch said.
James Baiardi worked as a correctional officer for 30 years. He is now retired and works for the Florida Police Benevolent Association. The organization acts as a union for Law Enforcement. Baiardi says the prison system is facing a crisis because correctional officers are underpaid and overworked.
“I’m going to make an imaginary officer, let’s call him Bob for this purpose and Bob works on Monday and he works 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and at 6 p.m. he's told he’ll being working until 11 p.m. because that’s the longest they can work you is 16 consecutive hours. Now he’s panicking," Baiardi says. "Sometimes [officers] have childcare issues. They care for family members all kinds of things."
Baiardi says officers are being worked "tremendously."
He continues by saying compensation is not a new issue and that the state needs to pay officers a minimum salary of $40,000 to keep them at their jobs. Meanwhile, Rep. Dianne Hart (D-Tampa) is supporting a bill with the hopes of reducing prison populations.
“House Bill 189 is a bill that will reduce gain-time requirements for first-time nonviolent offenders from 85 percent to 65 percent,” said Hart during a press conference for the bill.
Gain-time allows inmates to be released early on good behavior.