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Tight Prison Budget Doesn't Slow Recruiting

Florida Department of Corrections

The Department of Corrections is determined to hire 4,000 new prison guards in the next year and a half, even though lawmakers agreed to pay for just 215 this year.

Recruiters were out in force Wednesday at a job fair on Tallahassee’s south side.

A half hour before it begins, Captain Felicia Anderson and Officer Patricia Hall are shuffling a pile of applications and arranging a dozen complimentary plastic mugs with the FDC logo. Both women are wearing crisp brown uniforms.

Anderson is a 24-year department veteran who has been spending four days a week at various recruiting events. Today she’s trying to fill 29 openings at Madison Correctional Institution.

Sure, Anderson says, some potential recruits ask about prison corruption and inmate stabbings.

“We tell them, it’s not TV. So, you know, TV is there for the ratings. You can’t compare this institution with television, because they’re there for the ratings. You get a lot of people that get hired and it’s like, ‘Oh, Okay. It’s nothing like I thought it would be.’”

Corrections Secretary Julie Jones was brought in a year ago to fix a system plagued by complaints of excessive use of force and high-profile inmate deaths. She asked lawmakers for 734 new prison guards. They authorized just 215.

Spokesman McKinley Lewis says the department is hoping that if it fills 1,400 vacancies and then some, it will convince the Legislature to approve enough resources to switch from 12-hour to 8-hour shifts.

“When there are more vacancies our officers are having to work longer hours and more overtime. That can certainly put them in a more stressful position. And of course, stress can lead to mistakes or oversight.”

Curtis Pride knows the drill. The Tallahassee man worked at the Wakulla County Correctional Institution for six and a half years before he was let go. He came to the job fair in hopes of getting picked up again at Madison.

Pride says he likes the work.

“There’s a lot of other things that go with the job as far as supervising inmates on a daily basis. As far as recreation and the chow hall, for delivering facilities and stuff, making sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s a lot of different tasks that come with the job.”

Traffic was light. The only other applicant Wednesday morning was a 19-year-old Utah woman who was living temporarily with her 3-year-old daughter in a shelter after their car called it quits.