Lawmakers back prison guard bonuses, shift changes

“We want to see how it’s working as it is implemented so we can take a look at it."

As Florida prison officials grapple with the high turnover of correctional officers, lawmakers are poised to finalize deals that would inject more money into officers’ pay and curtail some of their long work hours.

Before the 2020 legislative session began in January, Gov. Ron DeSantis urged state lawmakers to fund a $60 million retention-pay plan for correctional officers and a $29 million pilot program that would switch some officers’ 12-hour shifts to 8.5-hour workdays in an effort to reduce worker fatigue.

The House and Senate have agreed to fund both proposals, but the plans fall short of what the governor sought. Senate budget chief Rob Bradley called the criminal justice spending plans “responsible” and “reasonable.”

Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, said lawmakers also will offer certain correctional officers bonuses, on top of a 3-percent pay increase for state workers.

“For correctional officers, we go even beyond the 3-percent raise to do some pay enhancements, depending on how long the correctional officers have served. That is an important reform for the Department of Corrections,” Bradley told reporters on Thursday.

The exact amount lawmakers will spend on the retention-pay plan has yet to be determined, but it’s unlikely to meet the Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch’s requested $60 million.

The bonus package’s price tag will be lower, in part, because the chambers are proposing to delay the plan’s implementation by three months. Instead of doling out bonuses to officers when the new fiscal year begins on July 1, lawmakers want to push the start date to October.

Under the proposed plan, the bonuses would range from $500 to $2,500 and be awarded to correctional officers based on how long they have worked for the department, starting at 2 years of service.

Lawmakers have also settled on $17.2 million to launch a pilot program that would move officers in a quarter of Florida’s prisons from 12-hour shifts to 8.5-hour workdays, in an effort to address worker fatigue.

Inch asked for $29 million to make the shift modification in 33 percent of the state’s prisons in the first year, which would have required the state to hire 292 full-time officers.

House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Clay Yarborough said on Monday the House also has offered language that would require the state agency to provide a monthly report about the pilot program to legislators, who would review how the plan is being carried out.

“We want to see how it’s working as it is implemented so we can take a look at it. We want to get that information from the department to make sure we are moving in the right direction,” Yarborough, a Jacksonville Republican, told reporters.

The shift-hour modification is not a new concept in Florida. Wrangling over the shift reductions initiated by former Gov. Rick Scott’s administration in 2018 has resulted in an ongoing court battle.

The state argues the shift-hour modifications are necessary to save money and make prisons safer. But the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents correctional workers, maintains the state needs to negotiate with the union prior to changing prison guards’ hours, in part, because the move reduces their wages.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, the Senate’s top criminal-justice budget negotiator, said Monday the shift modification “will bring a substantial reduction in contraband, inmate-on-inmate violence and inmate-on-officer assaults” because it will reduce worker fatigue.

“Those are the three key metrics that we are looking at, but also, how is staff reacting to this as well,” Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, added.

Another key issue that remains unresolved is how much money the state will spend to repair and maintain the state’s crumbling infrastructure.

Senate President Bill Galvano told The News Service of Florida in December that he wanted to inject more money into the corrections system to address infrastructure issues such as a lack of air conditioning in prisons.

“It’s not a popular thing, so that’s why it doesn’t often get the attention financially that it should. But it’s really about the big picture, and it goes hand-in-hand with some of the criminal justice reforms that are being discussed,” Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, said at the time.

Bradley, however, said Thursday that the Senate is cutting in half its proposed $12.6 million spending plan for prison infrastructure and steering the money to other parts of the corrections budget, including bonuses and a new mental health facility in Lake County.

The Senate’s cut to prison infrastructure leaves the two chambers at odds on how much to spend on that area of the budget. The House is proposing $16 million for repairs and maintenance, while the Senate is offering $6 million.


Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Ana Ceballos

Ana covers politics and policy Before joining the News Service of Florida she wrote for the Naples Daily News and was the legislative relief reporter for The Associated Press and covered policy issues impacting immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare in Florida. She holds a B.A. in journalism from San Diego State University. After graduating in 2014, she worked as a criminal justice reporter for the Monterey Herald and the Monterey County Weekly. She has also freelanced for The Washington Post at the U.S.-Mexico border covering crime in the border city of Tijuana, where she grew up. Ana is fluent in Spanish and has intermediate proficiency in Portuguese.


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