Gov. DeSantis patches prison guard shortages with National Guard members

PRISON STOCK PHOTO (11)
The Department of Corrections says 300 voluntary service members will help prison hold over nine months until new officers are trained.

Following legislative approval for a plan to temporarily alleviate the shortage of correctional officers in state prisons, Gov. Ron DeSantis has ordered the National Guard to immediately activate members who have stepped forward to fill the gap.

DeSantis issued the order Friday, hours after the Joint Legislative Budget Commission approved a plan to place 300 members of the Florida National Guard in state prisons for nine months. While the $31.3 million measure received near-unanimous bipartisan support, Republicans and Democrats alike emphasized the need for Florida to reverse course on correctional officer recruitment and retention.

“The Department, despite its best efforts, is experiencing a severe shortage of correctional officers resulting in the temporary closure of 176 inmate dorms and suspension of 431 supervised work squads,” DeSantis wrote in his executive order. “This shortage threatens the safety of officers, inmates, and the public.”

The Department of Corrections (DOC) has long struggled to recruit and retain officers in Florida’s prisons. But while the agency says recent initiatives are helping the state start to recover employees, DOC is still short thousands of officers. Over the course of the next nine months, DOC expects to train up the new recruits that are stepping up following this year’s pay bump for correctional officers.

This year, lawmakers approved $395 million funding for a 5.4% across-the-board increase for state employees and $72.6 million going to increase the pay of all employees earning less than $15 per hour. On top of that, the Legislature dedicated $15.8 million to pad prison guards’ pay.

“While the incentive package has shown early signs of success, action is needed now to address the present staffing shortage on a temporary short-term basis,” DeSantis wrote in his executive order.

The department is already seeing an uptick in correctional officer recruitment, DOC budget chief Mark Tallent told the Joint Legislative Budget Commission. The state has hired more than 2,000 since May, but turnover continues, leading to a net gain of only 700 officers. Still, it’s been years since DOC has seen four months of net gains in officers.

“We’re seeing positive increases,” Tallent said. “Employee morale across the state has improved with these increases. The thing we have to continue to work on obviously is retention.”

To fill the 300 slots, the National Guard is taking volunteers who will be compensated the same as if they were responding to a hurricane or other emergency. The service members will man the perimeter, entrance and exits, and internal security without having to directly supervise inmates. The additional support would provide DOC time to train the hundreds of hires waiting to go through the 14-week certification program.

“It gives a great opportunity for a lot of our unemployed guardsmen to have full-time work,” said Lt. Col. Peter Jennison, director of military support for the Florida National Guard.

The measure was proposed by DOC and recommended by DeSantis. The funding would pay for $18.5 million in salary and $24 million for military readiness within the state Emergency Response Trust Fund.

Republicans and Democrats on the panel shared concerns over the future recruitment rate and retention of correctional officers. However, only two Commission members, Jacksonville Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson and Tallahassee Democratic Rep. Ramon Alexander, voiced their opposition to the plan.

“This is something that we have to do to get it to a safe place, but something that we cannot continue to overlook,” Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book said.

Democrats questioned what would happen during a hurricane or other emergency, which is more in line with the National Guard’s typical missions. Jennison attempted to assuage those concerns.

“Based upon our current assessments, the National Guard will still have full capacity to support the citizens of Florida if we support the Department of Corrections,” Jennison said.

Rep. Nicholas Duran, a Miami Democrat, called the $31.3 million price tag an expensive solution to the problem.

Also a concern for some is the dangerous conditions correctional officers face.

“We’ve had an opportunity to do this better, and we didn’t take it,” Gibson said. “To put the guard into, I think, a more dangerous situation than they are likely used to I think is wrong. I really do. This is not well thought out, and it’s not money well spent.”

However, Miami Springs Republican Rep. Bryan Ávila, an Army veteran and member of the Florida National Guard, suggested volunteering in prisons is just another way members can serve their country.

“Whether it’s a pandemic, whether it’s a wildfire, whether it’s flooding, whether it’s a deployment, whether it’s U.S. Capitol security, whether it’s the border, there’s a whole host of things that the National Guard does, and they do it in the service of the residents of the state of Florida,” Ávila said.

“They do it freely. They do it because they want to do it. When they sign up just like I did, they do it because they want to serve our great state and they want to serve our great nation.”

The measure also evoked opposition from some members of the public. Of the handful that testified during the meeting, most suggested the state instead work to reduce the prison population.

“Getting nonviolent drug offenders, the elderly and those who can clearly be rehabilitated out of cells and cages would help solve this problem without the drain on taxpayers of bringing the costly National Guard, a group that’s not designed to be corrections officers,” said Karen Woodall, a Tallahassee lobbyist speaking on behalf of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) Action Fund.

The current prison population is more than 80,000 and is expected to approach 86,000 by July and cross 90,000 between 2025 and 2026. Of the current population, 24,000 are in for nonviolent offenses and could be released, according to the organization.

In a statement earlier Friday, SPLC Action Fund Regional Policy Analyst Delvin Davis called the measure an “expensive and inadequate band-aid.”

“If we can get serious about sentencing reform, reinstate parole and save money by placing people who do not require lockup into home detention, we can solve this problem in a smart, cost-effective, and humane way,” Davis said.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


18 comments

    • Joe Corsin

      September 9, 2022 at 7:03 pm

      Yeah good. Nobody wants to work at inhumane Florida concentration camps for low wages… nonliving wages. Same thing happened with the great resignation. Employers want people to work but didn’t want to pay. Basically the slave ship owners almost went down with the gd ship before they figured they had to do something and actually pay people to work. The South is a hell hole. Nobody give a fk about anyone or anything.

      • Avy115

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  • Ray Heinonen

    September 9, 2022 at 7:19 pm

    Makes it sound like the FL National Guard is now a Temp Agency for the State.

    • David in Shoreline

      September 9, 2022 at 8:28 pm

      Makes it sound like Governor DeSantis knows what he’s doing.

      • Mr. Haney

        September 10, 2022 at 3:47 pm

        If DeSantis knew what he was doing he wouldn’t have to use the NG as slave labor.

  • Mr. Haney

    September 10, 2022 at 5:59 am

    Since when has the Naional Guard become the State’s slave labor force?

    • Tom Jones

      September 10, 2022 at 9:38 am

      How can you call the National Guard slaves when it is a volunteer force?

      • Mr. Haney

        September 10, 2022 at 3:48 pm

        Enlist and find out.

        • Tom Jones

          September 10, 2022 at 4:19 pm

          Mr Haney. I have served my country for seven years. How about you dipshit?

      • Elliott Offen

        September 10, 2022 at 4:10 pm

        @Tom: Why wouldn’t you enlist. Here lies your answer. (besides the fact that you are disordered of course)

  • Tjb

    September 10, 2022 at 10:27 am

    Are these folks trained and able to deal with inmates ?

    • Charlie Crist

      September 10, 2022 at 11:38 am

      If inmates misbehave..they will be shot. This is the new right wing police state, greasy grifter state, neo nazi death camps are here, all courtesy of mini Hitler. Elect me to put an end to all the human rights violations in Florida.

      • Impeach Biden

        September 10, 2022 at 4:43 pm

        Seeing what is going on in Amerika right now with violent crime, why not get rid of these horrible people. I present Memphis as exhibit “A”.

        • Elliott Offen

          September 10, 2022 at 7:41 pm

          Crime was much worse in the 1990’s…just look at the stats. Now you want to “get rid of people?” Look at the Nordic countries. Why do you think it’s so peaceful there but not here? Don’t say skin color. Are they “getting rid of people?” How about we “get rid” of whatever in this country is making things so different than happier countries overseas. I’ll give you a hint…they aren’t as right wing as the USA. Therefore if anyone should be gotten rid of it should be you people and your fk government and everyone else ideology.

          • Impeach Biden

            September 11, 2022 at 5:40 am

            At least you can agree that no cash bail and defund the police just won’t work in this country. A product of your progressive leaning Democrat party. Charlie Crist and Demings will have to defend this

  • Impeach Biden

    September 10, 2022 at 5:32 pm

    Confirmed. FP is deleting and blocking posts that do not fit its liberal and left wing agenda.

    • Charlie Crist

      September 10, 2022 at 7:43 pm

      Well go to 4Chan or Mike Lindell’s website. Plenty of your kind of free speech there. Go check it out!!

Comments are closed.


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