In an effort to help ease a staffing crisis in Florida prisons, Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ proposed budget recommends cutting work shifts to 8.5 hours at all correctional institutions.
Some guards have had to work up to 16-hour shifts because of staffing shortages, a Florida Department of Corrections official told lawmakers earlier this year.
Speaking to the House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee in September, Deputy Secretary Ricky Dixon urged action.
“We just don’t have another Session to get this right from all the statistics we’re looking at,” he said.
On Thursday, Dixon hailed the Governor’s proposal.
“I want to thank Governor DeSantis for his recognition and prioritization of the officers across Florida who selflessly and honorably serve as corrections professionals. The Governor’s recommendations address our biggest challenge and looks to the future as we determine the path for Florida’s corrections system,” Dixon said. “The budget recommendation also takes a historic step to reinvest in the education, substance use treatment and wellbeing of the incarcerated with the goal to restore lives and create a pathway for returning to their community as productive contributing citizens.”
DeSantis’ budget also includes $124 million to boost starting wages to $20 an hour from the current $16.
Hopes are these moves will fill staffing gaps. Of 18,000 positions in the Department of Corrections, 5,000 were vacant in September.
The DeSantis proposal spreads new money throughout the system, with $5 million earmarked for a modernization plan, $27.5 million for the Inmate Welfare Trust Fund, $2.3 million for Community Corrections Statewide Firearms Transition, and $15.1 million for Offender Based Information System (OBIS) modernization.
But success is contingent on staff retention. And the Governor’s bet seems to be that more money to staffers means there will be fewer holes in the workforce.
“Governor DeSantis recognizes the challenges of long, sometimes unpredictable work hours for correctional officers and strongly supports FDC’s complete transition to 8.5-hour shifts at all state correctional institutions. Following the recommendation of national experts, shorter shifts will reduce staff attrition, use of force incidents, contraband and violent incidents. It will also support better work-life balance for officers,” asserted an email from the Department of Corrections, which supports the proposal.