State officials say staffing challenges at Florida's prisons are improving
The department is asking Tallahassee lawmakers for $5 million to consider where the state should build new prisons — and what those facilities should look like in the future.
Florida prisons have struggled mightily over the past few years with staffing shortages, old facilities and complications due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. State lawmakers Tuesday learned that the Department of Corrections system in December was missing nearly 10 times the number of workers it needs to operate adequately. Corrections Secretary Ricky Dixon told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee the 31% vacancy rate in December peaked and he expects it to improve thanks to recent signing bonuses and raises. "I can stand here today and just tell you I've never been more optimistic,” he said. “I can feel it and see it in the system. Now the morale's improving, the staff see what you're doing." Florida has the third largest corrections system in the country with 57 prisons and five reception centers that house 80,000 prisoners. Dixon said hiring in December nearly evened out the attrition of prison workers for the first time in more than a year. The system was losing 150 to 200 workers per month before that. The discussion devolved into the future of the state’s incarceration system. Chair of the committee, State Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Miami Democrat, agreed the system needs to change. “What we have doesn’t work in my opinion,” he said. “It’s completely inefficient.” The department is asking Tallahassee lawmakers for $5 million to consider where the state should build new prisons — and what those facilities should look like in the future. "This is trying to be fiscally responsible and wise and start planning decades out from now— on how we best put ourselves in a place we want to be 20 years from now,” Dixon said. “Because I think we agree we don't need to be dealing with some of these same issues 10 and 20 years from now. We need to start moving forward." Dixon's presentation led to lawmakers suggesting solutions such as building fewer, larger prisons, that are more reminiscent of college campuses and that work more efficiently.