After years of slashing funding for Florida’s state prison system, Gov. Rick Scott released a proposed budget Wednesday that would inject $51.2 million in new spending into the troubled agency but fails to provide any new resources to investigate inmate deaths – which last year reached a record high.
The governor, who has said little about allegations of corruption, inmate abuse and the high number of inmate deaths, would allocate $17.5 million to fill staff vacancies, which falls far short of the 654 that his new corrections secretary, Julie Jones, requested in her budget proposal. Scott also provided no new money to boost the salaries of corrections officers, who have not received raises in six years.
Jones and advocates for prison reform say raising salaries is key to retaining and recruiting quality corrections officers. The use of force has almost doubled among corrections officers in the past five years and critics say the staffing shortages have created dangerous conditions for both prison staff and inmates.
“We need 654 more boots on the ground,’’ said Sen. Greg Evers, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which on Monday holds its third hearing on prison reform. Evers, R-Crestview, surprised officials at Jefferson Correctional Institution and Suwannee Correctional last week when he and his staff conducted unannounced inspections and found dangerously low staffing levels, as well has facilities is dangerous disrepair.
Jones told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee last week that she needed additional staff at the agency because “staffing is key to lowering the temperature” in these facilities.
“The staffing deficiencies have hampered our ability to operate at peak efficiency,’’ she said.