Florida’s understaffed prison system is getting a long-needed shot in the arm, and it’s not a vaccine. Beginning next year, the state will raise the starting correctional officer salary to $38,750, marking a 16% increase.
Florida will also offer a slew of new hire bonuses: $3,000 per correctional officer, plus an extra $1,000 for officers who join a high vacancy institution. Applicants who are already certified, meanwhile, can also earn a $1,000 hiring bonus.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the plan Wednesday as part of a larger roll out of legislative priorities.
“As so many cities and states choose to disrespect, degrade and defund the work of law enforcement, we want Florida to continue valuing our men and women of law enforcement today, tomorrow and for generations to come,” DeSantis said in a press release.
“This year, we have prioritized initiatives to recruit and reward high quality officers, especially corrections officers, and these new bonuses, effective immediately, will help support public safety positions within the Florida Department of Corrections,” DeSantis added.
The bonuses and salary increase are an answered prayer for prison leaders, who’ve long pleaded with state lawmakers for more resources.
In September, a Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) leader warned the clock is ticking.
“We just don’t have another Session to get this right from all the statistics we’re looking at,” Deputy Secretary Ricky Dixon told lawmakers.
Indeed, the numbers are grim by any measure. Prison leaders have long struggled to recruit and retain officers. Officers, they note, are disproportionally burdened by long hours and low pay.
According to DOC, the agency loses 400 officers monthly while only recruiting 200 on average.
Staff shortages, they warn, lead to rapid burnout. Officers frequently work 16-hour days to maintain minimum staffing. Additionally, some face hours long commutes due to closures.
The starting pay currently stands at $16 an hour.
In all, taxpayers spent more than $103 million on overtime in fiscal year 2020-2022. Of the 18,000 security staff positions, more than 5,000 are vacant.
Florida is the third largest prison system in the nation.