‘We’ve got something special going on’: DOC morale high, staffing near pre-pandemic levels

‘We’ve never seen morale this high.’

Salary increases, hiring incentives and internal efforts to boost employee confidence are paying off for the Department of Corrections (DOC), according to Secretary Ricky Dixon.

Correctional officer vacancies are bordering on pre-COVID levels, he said, due in large part to “historic” increases to officer salaries and $5,000 hiring and retention bonuses for guards in hard-to-fill locations.

That’s not to say there aren’t “geographical problems” that still need addressing, he told members of the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. But things are moving in the right direction, and people across the Department are feeling it.

“We’ve never seen morale this high,” said Dixon, who took over the Department in February 2022. “We’ve got something special going on right now.”

DOC has 23,692 employees, of which 18,967 are authorized security personnel responsible for overseeing, protecting and handling a prison population of more than 85,500 inmates.

Officer vacancies systemwide are at about 15.5%, just over 1 percentage point higher than a pre-pandemic low in July 2019 and markedly lower than in March 2022, when a third of all guard positions needed filling.

A nearly $5,000-per-officer raise in December 2021, followed by an almost $3,000 pay increase the following July pushed that number down. Open officer positions continued to be filled steadily through and beyond July 2023, when lawmakers approved hiking salaries to $45,760 on average.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Dixon said, but added that some areas in the state are “still struggling” to meet staffing needs.

The two problem areas are North Florida and the Panhandle, largely rural regions where the 15 prisons in each are running at 18% and 19% deficits in guards, respectively. The lack of manpower led to dorm closures, which in turn pushed problems onto facilities elsewhere.

“What that’s resulted in is we’ve had to … overcompress the prisons in the south, making them more dangerous and volatile,” he said.

Heat also contributes to prisoner unruliness, as Florida Politics detailed last month. At least 740 air-conditioned beds at Franklin Correctional Institution in North Florida sat unused due to understaffing, while prisoners remained in overcrowded facilities southward without climate-controlled cells — some of which may have exceeded 115 degrees during the summer.

Staffing is best in Central Florida, where among 12 institutions the vacancy rate is lower than 3.5%.

South and Southwest Florida, which have seven state penitentiaries between them, have a combined 10.4% vacancy rate. That’s mainly due to two outliers, Hardee Correctional Institution and Okeechobee Correctional Institution, which “much like the Panhandle are in rural areas,” Dixon said.

Asked by Miramar Rep. Tom Fabricio to elaborate, Dixon explained that hiring and retaining officers in sparsely populated areas is tougher because of a lower “application flow,” but it’s also because of the inmates there.

“Those are both pretty tough prisons,” he said. “We do find disparity or a difference in staffing our lower-custody prisons versus our higher-custody prisons. Those two mentioned are pretty tough population types, so our turnover rate there is pretty significant.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at Jess[email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


  • Sonja Fitch

    November 16, 2023 at 8:24 am

    Absolutely! The lies and bs of the trump cult is catching up with the loooosssseers! Florida boy Desantis can’t even fool his citizens in Florida. Boy Desantis is being caught up in his stupidity of governing Florida!!! Love it!

    • Correctional Sergeant

      November 16, 2023 at 11:25 am

      Respectfully, It has nothing to do with Governor Desantis, Former Governor Rick Scott and Former Secretary Julie Jones were the reason why the Department of Corrections is the way it is. Rick Scott tried to make the entire Florida prison system privatized (while he had shares in the Private prison companies) and Cut positions within the department, Julie Jones instituted a Hiring Freeze and only lifted it once we were at critical staffing throughout the state. Under Gov. Desantis the FDOC (Florida Department of Corrections) received not only the highest pay raises in the agencies history but the first pay raise in 12 years.

  • TSF

    November 16, 2023 at 5:25 pm

    FDOC has correctional officers not guards. Please respect the professionals providing our public safety.


    November 17, 2023 at 8:49 am

    they will see greatly improved numbers with staffing and see a low turnover rates. FOR THE FUTUER If THEY GO BACK TO 12 HOUR SHIFTS AND PUT THEM BACK ON THE FRS PLAN I PROMISE YOU ITS PEOPLE WHO WOULD LOVE TO COME BACK AND WORK THERE ITS JUST THOSE 8.5 HOURS IS JUST NOT GOING TO WORK WHEN THE COUNTY CORRECTIONS ARE ON 12S AND PAYING MORE they are saying it’s because covid most of us left NO LIES AGAIN most of us left due to the change from 12 hour shifts to 8.5 hour shifts and low pay. within the first week Polk ci lost a number of 100 officers and threw out the region the numbers grew to more than 1000 within 6 months of the change so what does that tell you go back to 12s we had more time with family our kids and loved ones and loved coming to work. but the 8s tore the department down bad and made it worse so if I could speak for the doc as a whole, I would say put us back on 12s and watch the agency grown with this new salary and watch those numbers change for the great of good and what how those employe numbers grow. But I can say DeSantis has done a lot in the department since he has been in office.

Comments are closed.


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