Gov. Rick Scott is looking to give Florida corrections officers a pay raise, including $38 million for the state’s prison system in his proposed budget.
Mary Ellen Klas of the Miami Herald reports that the increase, part of the budget Scott will announce Tuesday, is for “officers up to and including the rank of captain.”
Also, Scott wants to offer a $1, 000 signing bonus to new officers at certain understaffed prisons, and boost pay for officers at prison mental-health units. If approved, that combined program could cost taxpayers about $7.5 million.
Florida’s prison system, one of the most violent in the nation, has been plagued by corruption, reports of mistreatment and brutality, as well as low pay and high turnover staff rates. Over the past decade, employees at corrections facilities received a raise only once, which Klas writes was a one-time bonus for lowest paid employees.
“The governor believes in investments that allow the Florida Department of Corrections to better retain officers and have an experienced workforce,” Scott spokesperson McKinley Lewis told the Herald.
Despite warnings from Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones that low pay had resulted in massive turnover rates at the troubled agency, Klas notes Scott has so far fought the call for corrections employee pay increases, while pushing for more than $1 billion in tax cuts. For the 2017-2018 fiscal year, Scott is looking for another $618 million in tax cuts.
In an audit of the state prison system, conducted in 2015 for the Legislature, turnover rates in state prisons increase by nearly half from 2009-2015, leaving corrections staff with fewer than three years’ experience on average. Klas notes the audit found that “at five of the ten largest Florida prisons, only half of staff members had more than two years of work experience.” Inmate deaths in Florida prisons have also risen every year, exacerbated by “chronic understaffing and lack of experience.”
Scott’s plan would put salaries for a new corrections officers to $33,500 – up 8.5 percent from $30,926 to $33,500. Sergeants, lieutenants and captains would receive a 10 percent pay increase. Probation officers would also get a raise.