The Phoenix Flyer

FL correctional system still suffers from staff shortages; officials push for higher pay for officers

By: - September 22, 2021 5:40 pm

Credit: Richard Theis/EyeEm/Getty

Staff shortages in Florida’s prison system have triggered temporary closures at correctional institutions, work camps and other facilities across the state, an official with the Florida Department of Corrections told lawmakers in the Florida House on Wednesday.

Three correctional institutions are temporarily closed “to ensure safe and secure correctional institutions,” according to a memo from the agency.

Deputy Secretary Ricky Dixon at the Florida Department of Corrections explains staffing crisis at prisons to state lawmakers on September 22, 2021. Credit: Screenshot/Florida Channel

Those institutions in North Florida are Cross City Correctional Institution Main Unit and Work Camp, Baker Correctional Institution and New River Correctional Institution.

Ricky Dixon, deputy secretary of the Department of Corrections, said the agency has also closed 188 dorms in the state to “provide some staffing relief.”

“We did that because we needed to gain immediate staffing relief in some of the most critically understaffed areas,” he said.

Low staff wages is a major reason the correctional facilities aren’t able to maintain adequate staff levels, said Dixon.

That said, Florida’s correctional system has made some efforts to incentivize staff members, such as offering $1,000 bonuses for new and returning employees and increasing starting salaries for correctional officer trainees. The agency  continues to transition from 12 hour shifts to 8.5 hour shifts.

Still, prisons have been operating with just one staff member monitoring “over 200 inmates by themselves,” Dixon said.

“That’s the case at this moment. … almost every prison, that’s now the staffing situation,” he said. “Even maintaining this level of inadequate staffing is causing our staff to frequently have to work 16 hour days.”

State Rep. John Snyder, a Republican representing parts of Martin and Palm Beach counties, said he’s visited prisons in Florida and described the conditions as “an eye-opener.”

“Walking in that prison was nothing short of scary,” Snyder said.

Dixon spoke before the House’s Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee about the staffing crisis, saying he expects to attract staff members to fill numerous vacancies at facilities if salaries increase even more.

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.