Florida prison chief: State losing corrections staff to ‘Wal-Mart,’ creating insecurity in system

prison reform

More than three-quarters of Florida’s corrections officers have less than two years’ experience. In some state prisons, a single CO will be left alone to supervise 150-200 inmates in a jail block.

Contraband has become so bad, one random search of (just half) a Dade facility turned up $15,000 in street value of cocaine, seven knives, 46 cellphones and an array of other drugs and illicit materials, said Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones Thursday.

The state’s prisons chief was in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee, having to explain just how bad the situation was, even though the state’s inmate population dropped by 3,000 from the year before.

Three main problems, she said, were safety, recidivism, and operational deficiencies — all due to a lack of funding. Corrections officers are paid so little, and have such a high stress in a dangerous job, she can’t keep them on the payroll.

“I’m losing state and local officers to state and local businesses — even to Wal-Mart,” she told the committee. “We hire thousands of new corrections officers every year. We’re a hiring machine. The problem is we can’t keep them.”

She said turnover for COs has increased 95 percent since 2009.

Entry-level base pay for a corrections officer before completion of on-the-job training hovers around $29,000. It goes up, slightly, when a combination of certifications and on-the-job training are completed, but for working 12 hour shifts — sometimes doubles due to the lack of staffing, especially at correctional facilities specializing in mental health issues, Jones said — it’s no wonder why she can’t keep anyone on for more than a year or so.

That tempts some COs to earn a little extra money on the side.

Jones said, unfortunately, some of the ones securing the facility are the ones bringing in the contraband or are looking the other way in exchange for bribes. And with career field numbers so low — with a current vacancy rate of 13 percent statewide, she said — security issues become a factor. Drugs and weapons are stashed in trash cans or simply tossed over fences by friends or loved ones working in cahoots with inmates.

When a random search of a prison, or part of a prison, takes place, inmates caught with illegal materials, products or drugs face more charges, leading to high recidivism rates.

Since 2009, the introduction of contraband into the prisons system has increased more than 400 percent.

Inmate on inmate attacked have increased 68 percent during the same period, she cited.

To boot, she admitted, when questioned by Sen. Jeff Brandes, facilities are falling apart. Fencing at some prisons is so old, or dilapidated, the department doesn’t have a way to mend it without tearing it all down and rebuilding or renovating, and there simply isn’t the money to do that, she said.

Without a new and increased pay package, she said she doesn’t any change for the better coming. She’s requested more money and according to the chair of the appropriations committee, Jack Latvala, the cavalry is coming.

“I am pleased to report, in consultation with Sen. [Joe] Negron … help is on the way from the Florida Senate,” he said. “Our budget will include some substantial help on this issue. … Let’s go to work and make it happen.”

Les Neuhaus

Les Neuhaus is an all-platform journalist, with specialties in print reporting and writing. In addition to Florida Politics, he freelances as a general-assignment and breaking-news reporter for most of the major national daily newspapers, along with a host of digital media, and a human rights group. A former foreign correspondent across Africa and Asia, including the Middle East, Les covered a multitude of high-profile events in chronically-unstable nations. He’s a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, in which he served as a Security Policeman, and graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in political science. He is a proud father to his daughter and enjoys spending time with his family.


  • S. Hart

    March 16, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    Unless something is iniatiated by this current governor and legislature to support corrections monetarily and that they understand that to allow this unreasonable deterioration of corrections will inevitably result in very bad consequences, to continue to do NOTHING and hope nothing happens is irresponsible and nearly criminal to allow this to continue. You don’t want to see this kind of bad, but it appears inevitable due to lack of concern for the staff, inmate, and public safety!

  • D

    March 16, 2017 at 9:53 pm

    This is exactly why I left the department mid 2015. I would come in and work food service for 3 hours on evening shift. (No AC around 115 degrees or better sometimes) then when finished you go relieve the officer in the dorm your assigned to because they have been by their self with 150 inmates. Conduct your searches and get called to confinement to help with showers. When I was done with that (8 hours in to the shift now) I would have to go help wake up the inmates and escort them to food service and get breakfast cooked, specials diets ready and also feed the cfo meals. The shift ends (12 hour mark) no relief shows up to work food service day shift ended up short. So I’d work 4 extra hours so now 16 hours in 9 am I have to drive home get a bite to eat and shower it’s 10:30 a.m. !! I have to be at work by 5:30!! So I would sleep 5 hours get up at 330 make my dinner and get dressed and have 30 minutes to talk to my family and leave for work. It’s crazy because you never know what that next day will bring. You just worked 16 hours on a night where there weren’t any issues with inmates. Not imagines if there was a fight in food service or my dorm. I’d have to write reports take pictures pack property and etc. or let it be a transfer night and you have 25 inmates property to inventory it sucks. But this isn’t not 100 % the fault of the higher level. How about the audits 7 of my 8 1/2 year career I had where the day shift roster would get stacked with admin shift workers and night shift workers to make it appear like there was more staff just to pass the audit. Don’t stack the dam shift like that to impress left them see how bad it is and fails that area of the audit. Ohh that’s right you can’t because it might cost that captain or higher up their job. It’s okay now ACA caught on to Florida covering this up just so they can try to set the American standard for corrections.

    • S tyre

      March 17, 2017 at 12:20 pm

      I personally​ know of a family that lost their 25 year old son, brother, uncle, etc from having to work long hours due to lack of help and having to go from the annex to the main unit to assist others and to leave his post to go help with the other officers that were in need of help. He died from having a massive heart attack. He had just gotten off of work and went home laid down and never woke up. This is a dangerous job and this job should be treated as such. Officers would stay if they had more money to benefit the job from and the state wouldn’t be so short on staff.

    • Wallace

      March 18, 2017 at 8:00 am

      WOW, you hit the ball out of the park. I report to work 4 hours early everyday, so I can get off in time in the mornings to take my kids to school. They can’t hold me after 16 hours.

  • No Retaliation

    March 18, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    I understand the situation as I worked as a CO in Security over 15 years and with the problems I could see and the lack of staff with the handling of disciplinary Inmate procedures were changing not benifiting the Officers. I had to get out. Shortly after leaving an Officer lost his life at Columbia Correctional Institution. I returned in a different capacity. Maintenance. This field is also underpaid. A Warden makes approximately 80+k a year. Assistant Warden 70+k a year. Colonel 60+K a year. Major 55k a year. Classification Supervisor 55k a year, Captain 50k a year. Lieutenant 45k a year. Sergeant 34+ a year. Correctional Officer approximately 30k a year. You can verify this by going to the Website:// Florida Right To Know// Google it! As far as the steps down in pay for Maintenance is: Regional Bureau Chief salary is 75+k a year. Construction Projects Consultant 52k a year. Maintenance Superintendent 36+a year. Vocational Instructor 26+ a year. CAN YOU SEE THE DIFFERENCE? Maintenance Superintendent’s are Department Heads! There is no Standards of pay levels for Maintenance either.

Comments are closed.


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