Editor’s Note: This story was originally published Sunday, March 8, 2020. It was updated Friday.
Legislative budgeters agreed to reduce the length of a quarter of correctional officers’ shifts, creating a final deal that split the initial House and Senate offers.
The House had asked for a fifth of shifts to move down from 12 hours to 8.5 hours while the Senate wanted to reduce the length of a third of shifts. And earlier in the day, lawmaker considered the Senate’s proposal to reduce the shift length of a quarter of officers a substantial move closer.
That reduction will put the Department of Corrections (DOC) on pace to completely revert to 8.5-hour shifts within four fiscal years. Although lawmakers are still trying to settle implementation language — which they plan to present Monday morning — House justice negotiations chair Clay Yarborough said monthly reports and feedback can inform shift reductions going forward.
“What we’re hoping is to start to see how it works and then use that as we move into the next few years and address it from there,” the Jacksonville Republican told Florida Politics.
And Monday morning, Yarborough and his Senate counterpart, Jeff Brandes, agreed the remaining implementation was up to the department.
“We’re not telling the department which facilities, or it has to be at this location,” Yarborough said “We’re leaving that so they can decide where it’s best to be implemented first.”
But a court order by Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson possibly put a wrench in lawmakers plans Friday. Dodson ruled DOC under then-Gov. Rick Scott unconstitutionally slashed some officers’ shifts without consulting the Florida Police Benevolent Association (FLPBA) union.
“The order is being reviewed and a determination will be made as to whether budget changes need to be considered,” Yarborough told The News Service of Florida Friday.
But Brandes told the News Service the Senate still wants to give the Department of Corrections the funds to launch the pilot program.
“They just need to collectively bargain,” he said.
Yarborough wouldn’t offer a final timeline Sunday for the complete reduction, but said going beyond four years was unlikely since the House agreed to move toward the Senate’s initial three-year offer. But Brandes told Florida Politics Sunday the changeover would be finished in three years with half of the remaining 12-shift officers being transitioned to 8.5-hour shifts in the following fiscal year.
“I think the Senate’s vision is really still being a three-year plan, but let’s let the start up take place at a quarter of the facilities this year,” Brandes said Monday.
However, James Baiardi, vice president for services for the state corrections chapter of FLPBA, said a reduction in shifts would be throwing fire into an already strained prison system. With prisons already short-staffed, officers might work two 8.5-hour shifts instead of one 12-hour shift or lose out on a predictable schedule.
He says more than 6,000 correctional officers have threatened to quit if their prison transitions to 8.5-hour shifts. Instead, he suggested lawmakers first offer the anticipated pay raises for correctional officers to earn trust and help fill the employment gap.
But Yarborough was confident the Legislature’s agreement was the best plan to improve state prison environments.
Brandes also vocalized a need to raise prison teacher pay parallel to teacher pay. The Senate has suggested nearly $2 million for academic teacher pay parity, but the House has yet to bite on the offer.
“Unless we do something corresponding in the Department of Corrections, you will find yourself having an incredible delta between what the county’s paying teachers and what the department is paying teachers, and therefore would have potentially an exodus out of the Department of Corrections,” Brandes told the joint panel of Senators and Representatives.
Yarborough called it a good priority and pointed toward the House’s accession to hire more wellness specialists. But with a tight budget, not every option is available.
“It’s not that we don’t want to do all of the good priorities,” he said. “Some things we have to pick and all that, so we believe that’s important. We can still look at the other as far as the parity and the academics and all of that.”
The Senate’s latest offer would cost the state $17.3 million over the fiscal year running from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021. Meanwhile, the House’s latest, identical to its original offer, costs $13.7 million.
House and Senate budget chiefs Travis Cummings and Rob Bradley did not share the details of that proposal when they suggested their intentions on the matter were in the same place ahead of the first budget conference.
“I think we trust Secretary (Mark) Inch and we think the eight and a half hour shift has a lot of merit to it,” Cummings told reporters Saturday afternoon.
In September, the Department of Corrections Secretary asked for an additional $89 million to begin scaling back shifts and to address other staffing problems.
The 12-hour shifts for correctional officers implemented under the Rick Scott administration led to dramatic rises in guard turnover, stress for guards, violence by prisoners, and costs for the department, he said.
Additionally, Senators agreed to shift all of the Legislature’s $28 million offer for hepatitis C treatment to nonrecurring rather than keep $21 million as recurring general revenue.