Julie Jones says prisons need higher pay to stop ‘churn in the hiring’ – Florida Politics

Julie Jones says prisons need higher pay to stop ‘churn in the hiring’

Turnover of staff at Florida’s prisons is so high that a substantial majority of guards in some prisons have less than two years experience, Corrections Secretary Julie Jones said Wednesday before the Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

Jones was at the subcommittee’s introductory meeting to push hers’ and Gov. Rick Scott administration’s priorities. They start with pay increases to attempt to boost recruitment and retention in prisons where guards can make less than $30,000 a year right now.

Jones outlined her top priority as a safety and security issue, arguing the inexperienced staff can lack the savvy needed to keep the system stable.

“So that experience working with inmates, knowing how to talk to an inmate, and… there’s smarts [that] corrections officers and police officers have to de-escalate; they don’t have enough experience on the job to be able to do that,” Jones said. “So contraband is up. Inmate violence is up. Inmate violence on inmates and officers is up. And it’s a churn in the hiring that has to stop in order to stabilize the system.”

The churn, she said, is 29.3 percent annually, about 3,000 prison guard jobs a year in the Florida Department of Corrections System. That doesn’t include another 1,000 floating job openings she maintains. “I’ve got facilities now that are 60, 70 percent [staff who have] less than two years.”

Though several members of the subcommittee had already stated that their highest priorities this year would be to address recidivism among parolees, Jones found support for her argument, particularly from Chairman Aaron Bean, a Jacksonville Republican.

“I looked at the numbers. A starting correction officer’s salary is $29,000 and change. They become certified, they go to $30,000,” Bean said. “But yet they can still go down the street to work at a distribution center where they start at $39-40,000, and not have anybody want to beat them up at the warehouse.”

“Mr. Chairman you’re absolutely correct. I’m losing … good, solid, five- to ten-year tenured higher pay,” Jones said.

Her presentation followed a discussion in which subcommittee members talked in earnest about making the prisons more efficient and reducing other costs by reducing their populations, releasing non-violent offenders.

Bean and the subcommittee’s legislative analyst Marti Harkness discussed the prospects of certain drug offenders being released. Vice Chair Randolph Bracy, the Democratic senator from Oakland, suggested non-violent elderly prisoners might be released. Sen. Jeff Clemens, the Democrat from Lake Worth, suggested Texas and Georgia be looked at, after those states released large numbers of non-violent offenders.

“No one is talking about letting out bad men and women. They will be remaining behind bars,” Bean clarified. “But they cost money. And we want them working. We want them working. So if there is something we can explore, I think our committee has the jurisdiction to explore.”

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

4 Comments

  1. As a fourteen year veteran of the Florida Department of Corrections I will tell you that until we place a step pay system and fund it we will continue to lose staff.

    1. I have worked for FDOC since March 2016 and have been looking for other options that pay more myself. The amount of pay does not come close to the level of danger we are put in.

    2. I whole-heartedly agree with “Pete”. Until we fund a “step pay system” and pay attention to “veteran officers” and retain those dedicated to the job and the craft, we WILL CONTINUE TO LOSE GOOD, QUALIFIED, HARD WORKING OFFICERS to higher paying entities. And I for one am sick and tired of “new cock” officers coming on the job and making almost as much as I do and I have 15 years of service!!! Something needs to happen and happen soon, or I’m outta here as well.

  2. I have been with DOC since 2008. The only raise anyone has gotten is when they get promoted. Not to mention the extra 3% we now have to contribute to our retirement. So by missing out on the average 2.5% cost of living raise for 10 years and the 3%. That puts us 28% behind the curve. Had the legislature just continued those minimum increases, we wouldn’t be in this dire situation right now. It would also increase hiring of officers and we’d be able to pick the cream of the crop. Now we have to just make sure they are breathing.

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