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To Help Retain Fla. Corrections Officers, Prison Officials May Be Looking At Pay Hikes For 2017

Florida Department of Corrections

Florida’s largest state agency is asking the Governor and the state Legislature for more than $147 million. While Florida Department of Corrections officials say pay increases are among their top legislative priorities, the union that has taken back the bargaining rights for the department’s correctional officers hopes even more money will be forthcoming.

The Florida prison agency is requesting funding for four major issues. As in years past, maintenance and repair continues to be a huge priority. $35 million will go toward facility repair and renovations.

“The Department has the state’s largest facility portfolio, spanning over 40,000 buildings and 20 million square feet of space,” said Kim Banks, during a recent meeting of the Public Safety Legislative Budget Review. “This request will allow us to replace over 80 buildings and nine perimeter systems that are all more than 30-years-old.”

Banks is the Chief Financial Officer for the Florida Department of Corrections. She says other funding priorities include enhancing the mental health treatment of inmates as well as money to replace vehicles.

“The Department is requesting $4 million to continue replacing in our aging fleet,” she added. “Currently, more than 75 percent of the department’s fleet is eligible for disposal. This request will allow is to replace 153 vehicles, including transport vans and buses.”

But, the agency’s most major concern is taking care of the ongoing problem of understaffing.

“Our top priority this year is to hire and maintain critical staffing levels and to reduce certified staff turnover,” continued Banks. “We’re requesting to do this through a three-tier targeted approach that includes raising the base rate of pay for correctional officers and probation officers, implementing a hiring bonus at high vacancy institutions, and raising the base rate of pay for our certified mental health correctional officers.”

“That’s a nice start,” said Matt Puckett, the Executive Director of the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

Puckett's union just won back the right to represent the state’s thousands of correctional officers and probation officers. They’d lost that right to the Teamsters Union in 2011.

Puckett says more should be done to retain the officers.

“The only thing that we would like to see added into that—and we believe that we can work with the Secretary [Julie Jones] and the Department management—we’d like to see an across-the-board raise and we’d like to see some money given to officers who have been there for awhile—some veteran officers,” he added. “It’s one thing to raise the base pay and focus on officers at particular facilities. But, you should also reward officers who have been doing a good job, who have kept their nose clean, and have been loyal to the department.”

Still, Puckett says he is encouraged by the department’s other requests to continue facility repairs and replace the inmate transport vehicles.

“Both of those are important topics,” he continued. “The vehicles, that tends to affect the probation staff a lot more. They are in vehicles that have high mileage, a lot of them break down. So, you have a dangerous situation for probation officers with the aging of the fleet.”

Puckett says his union also wants to place an emphasis on the good work correctional officers have done—rather than what he calls the “inexcusable behavior” of others.  He’s referring to high profile incidents involving officer misconduct that includes inmate abuse allegations and deaths.

“You know, the Department of Corrections has had a really bad rap for the past five years,” Puckett stated. “Unfortunately, less than a percentage of officers get into trouble and that kind of gives the whole Department a black eye, and we hope that we can turn that negative perception into a positive because they’re doing some really good work, they’re doing it for really low pay, they’re working long hours, and they’re keeping us safe and that’s important to remember and to remind the public.”

And, he adds the FPBA is looking forward to working with the new Florida House and Senate leadership to remind them of the importance of correctional officers and meet all their legislative goals.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.