Regional prison staffing numbers see improvements
In December, Florida’s Region 1 prisons hired more staff than they lost for the first time in many months.
While it is unclear whether this growth will be sustainable, Florida Department of Corrections Press Secretary Paul Walker said this trend is encouraging and may show the success of state-implemented hiring incentives, which aim to help with high employee turnover rates.
Walker said that at the Gulf County Correctional Institution, they hired more employees than they lost in both Novemebr and December.
In September, State Secretary of Corrections Ricky Dixon said that on average, Florida prisons were hiring 200 employees a month, but losing about 400.
Region 1 spans from Pensacola to Tallahassee and includes Gulf County Correctional Institution, Gulf County’s largest employer.
It was the only prison region in the state to have positive job growth in the last measurement period. However, in a recent address to the state legislature, Dixon said Florida’s embattled prison system is poised for a turnaround if lawmakers continue to fund staff increases and bonuses.
The secretary attributed this to a plan that was approved by the state legislature in November, steering more than $67 million towards pay raises and hiring bonuses for the prison workforce.
The savings providing the plan’s funding, which came from shuttering two prisons and dozens of dorm facilities, raised starting pay for a correctional officer from $33,500 to $38,750.
Closures included the closure of one of two Gulf County prisons as well as the prison work camp in April, 2021 – greatly reducing both the inmate population in the area and the number of prison employees.
“We would have like to have saved both prisons, but the reality was they were going to close one of them,” said Gulf County Administrator Michael Hammond in April. “The annex needed $8 million in renovations and the outmigration of employees after Michael would have made staffing both facilities a herculean task at two prisons side-by-side.”
In their Jan. 25 meeting, Hammond said that he and other county officials had met with Dixon in Tallahassee a week prior to discuss some of the county’s concerns regarding prisons.
The pay raises, Hammond said, would help “stabilize that ship.” But the administrator expressed concerns that it would apply increased pressure on local law enforcement agencies to raise their pay as well, which would have to be budgeted for.
Dixon asked the state legislature to approve an additional $143 million increase in the state prison budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year. Legislators will vote on the measure in their budget discussions this legislative session.