James Baiardi: To solve Florida correctional staff crisis, pay parity must happen now

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We must fix this problem today.
James Baiardi

Over the past year, Florida correctional officers, who already have one of the most challenging jobs in law enforcement, performed their jobs in the face of an unprecedented public health crisis that took a heavy toll on our members and the individuals in our custody.

On top of facing dangerous inmates every day, coupled with the threat of COVID-19, our brave men and women were forced to work an exhausting amount of overtime as the result of the staffing shortages that are rampant at many of our state facilities.

The staffing shortage, marked by some 5,000 vacant positions, has made our prisons extremely unsafe for everyone.

These shortages are a direct result of a problem that began several years ago when prior legislatures failed to properly fund yearly pay raises for state correctional officers. During that time, other law enforcement agencies and county correction departments raised the pay and benefits of their officers, while state correctional officers fell behind.

These county agencies then began to “poach” trained correctional officers from the FDC, saving their departments in training and recruitment costs.

The FDC became the training and recruitment hub for most county corrections and law enforcement departments, and the FDC turnover rate has skyrocketed year after year. This has left the FDC struggling to keep experienced officers while forcing its current officers to work excessive hours, even on their days off. For the officers, this has resulted in fatigue, increased stress and increased illnesses.

This is the root cause of most problems within the FDC. Well-trained, experienced officers have left to go to other agencies, instead of moving up the ranks and filling leadership positions within the FDC.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what it will take to make Florida prisons safer for staff and inmates alike — we must maintain enough well-trained and experienced correctional officers to staff our prison facilities.

Instead of spending millions of dollars on one prison plan or another, or a one-time pay raise, Florida legislators should instead support a significant wage increase that pays correctional officers from the rank of Officer to the rank of Captain, in order to bring them parity with other law enforcement officers in our state.

Furthermore, legislators must continue to fund pay raises yearly to keep pace with other agencies so that we do not fall behind again. Most of our officers that leave the department do so because of their low salaries that do not adequately reflect the services that they provide daily.

Florida correctional officers have always answered the call to provide care, custody, and control and to maintain public safety, while working under some of the most difficult working conditions imaginable. They deserve to be properly compensated for their service.

It’s time for Florida legislators and Gov. Ron DeSantis to say yes to a significant pay raise for all correctional officers, which will end the staffing crisis and improve the safety of correctional officers, prison staff, and inmates.

We must fix this problem today. Waiting for the upcoming Legislative Session may be too late for our brave men and women working the toughest beat in law enforcement.

I call on all parties involved to take immediate action to solve this dangerous staffing crisis.

___

James Baiardi is president of the Corrections Chapter of the Florida PBA, representing 15,000 correction officers throughout Florida.

Guest Author


One comment

  • J S Nein

    September 15, 2021 at 4:45 pm

    Unfortunately, nothing will be done until something bad happens. And there is a good chance not even then. Sad.

    Reply

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