County hopes prison salary increases aid efforts to reopen work camp
According to Gulf Correctional Institution Warden Scott Payne, there are currently 107 available jobs at Gulf County prison facilities, including 65 jobs at the temporarily closed Gulf Forestry Camp.
But the warden and other county officials say that salary increases, recently passed by the state legislature, could help Gulf Correctional fill some of these vacancies.
“Recruiting has been difficult over the past few years, but with the new pay raises we hope to see an influx of applicants wanting a career not just a job. We feel positive about the new base rate of pay and are excited to hire and welcome new correctional officers!” stated Recruiting Sergeant Barbara Cantrell.
The 2022 budget adopted by the Florida Legislature increased the starting salary for correctional officers to $41,600, effective July 1.
Correctional officer salaries were increased to $38,750 at the beginning of the year, a 16 percent increase from 2021. The Department of Corrections also implemented signing bonuses for correctional officers of up to $5,000
The median household income in Gulf County is $47,000.
“That is a big increase by our legislature, who appear to be doing their best to align salaries and compensation with a very tough job, made tougher in recent years by staffing shortages due to poor salaries,” said Jim McKnight, the Gulf County Economic Development Coalition’s director, in a press release.
McKnight said recruitment efforts at Gulf Correctional have been dampened by low pay for several years, as well as by negative social media attention generated by former Department of Corrections employees, who highlighted some of the jobs’ difficulties.
“Those folks endured great hardships during their service, due in great part to the staffing shortages,” McKnight said. “Working at the Department of Corrections was a good job years ago and can be again.”
Staffing shortages at Gulf Correctional also prompted the closure of several of the county’s prison facilities last year, including the Forestry Camp.
The main Gulf Correctional facility was also initially slated to be shuttered, but county officials were able to negotiate its continued service, emphasizing to state lawmakers the prison’s role as one of the county’s largest employers.
“We are pleased to hear of salary increases that should help fill the high number of vacancies at Gulf Correctional Institution,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond. “That high vacancy rate was the purported reason for attempts to close the facility last year.”
The Forestry camp was placed in mothballs. It has since become a priority of the county to see the additional space reopened.
“We worked hard to save Gulf CI last year and welcome the news of salary increase as a big step in keeping those jobs in Gulf County,” said Chairman of the Gulf County Board of County Commissioners Sandy Quinn.
“Thanks go out to Representative Jason Shoaf and Senator Lorraine Ausley for stepping up to save our prison last year and for supporting the increased funding for correctional officer salaries,” he continued.
Payne said that if staffing numbers improve, it will aid the county’s efforts to see the Forestry Camp reopened.
“If those vacancies can be greatly reduced, there is the possibility of reopening the Gulf Forestry Camp,” he said. “We know that reopening of the work camp is a high priority for Gulf County and the other municipality officials as they depend on our work camp labor to perform many jobs necessary for day to day services. “
Parties interested in employment with Gulf CI can contact Recruitment Sergeant Barbara Cantrell, at Gulf Correctional Recruitment, (850) 639-1483.