Christina Bullins: ARE OUR PRISONS SAFE IN FLORIDA?

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Florida Public Employees

The following is an unedited editorial providing an alarming view of safety concerns within the Florida Department of Corrections system.

Are_Prisons_Safe_In_Florida

April 12, 2014

by Christina Bullins

A recent report by NBC 2 reported that a handgun was found in the possession of inmates at Charlotte Correctional Institution.  This is just on the heels of a shooting inside of the Columbia Correctional Institution.  The 2013 turnover rate at Columbia CI was 16.9% and 15% at Charlotte CI and it appears that things are only going to get drastically worse.

The inmate population has remained stable in the last two years.  According to the Florida Department of Corrections Quick Facts, as of January 2014 the department housed 100,445 inmates.

In the department’s 2013-2014 (submitted in 2012) legislative budget request, it was reported that there were 16,673 security positions (certified correctional officers) to provide care, custody and control of the inmates.  The agency was requesting enough positions to reduce the lapse factor down to 5% in their 12 highest risk institutions; which had at the time a current lapse factor between 6.7% to 15.4%.

You ask what is a lapse factor?  It is when for example the agency formulates that a prison needs to operate with 1,000 officers, but purposely runs a “lapse” of 50 or 5% to save money.  The lapse factor does not take into account officers who are on vacation, leave, military leave or account for positions turning over. The turnover rate for last year was over 15%!

Therefore if you run at a zero lapse factor, there still will be shortages of some kind to account for leave times (maternity, military, sick, turnover), however when you run purposely at a 5% lapse factor what will result are the reality of lapse factors as high as 15.4% as reported when this request was submitted in 2012.  At the end of last session, the legislature gave the agency 245 positions.  The legislature also excluded the officers from the special issue pay raise that was given to other state officers.

Fast forward to September 2013 and Secretary Crews appearing in committee week hearings.  Crews told the committees that the agency has a big problem with retention. As Crews thanked them for the addition of 245 positions the year before, he added that the agency would go through months where they would hire 100, lose 160; hire 120 but lose 155.  This is not a job that someone can walk on and do!

There is a strict hiring guideline for Correctional Officers and when they are hired, WE PAY (TAXPAYERS) to put the officers through an academy that lasts several months so that they can become FDLE Certified Correctional Officers.  Many of the officers leave for other agencies to get an immediate 12k plus raise!  The agency is not fulfilling their legal obligation to pay the officers or give them the day off for the special compensation they have earned so as a result, officers lost 6,000 hours of special compensation last year!

Another interesting fact Crews reported was the explanation for overruns such as overtime that had a high of 1.6 million for just one month last year!  Running the prisons at such a critical staffing level and not addressing the huge retention problems by addressing parity of pay doesn’t save money in the end so what is this about?  Parity of pay for corrections/probation officers compared to other officers in this state is called for per statute and would obviously take care of the costly retention problem, high over time costs, and legal fees defending an unjustifiable action of stealing officers time/pay.  What about officer and public safety?

All this just to meet some kind of campaign promise to annihilate state employees? Punishment because the prisons are not being run by Geo Corporation?  Why so much senselessness?  Wait though, think it was bad then? Let’s fast forward.

In the departments 2014-2015 (submitted 2013) legislative budget request it is reported there are 15,946 security positions which is 727 positions less than the 2013-2014 request.  To think that between the 2 requests the legislature appropriated 245 additional positions during the 2013 session!  How do you add 245 positions and yet a year later have 727 less officers than the year before?  The 13-14FY request goes on to report that the lapse factor at 38 facilities ranges from 3.9% to 21%!  The lapse factor has grown substantially yet this time around the department only requests funds to lower the lapse factor to 8%!  Correctional Officers, hold on to your hats because you have one heck of a wild ride ahead of you!

It’s very interesting to note that in just the last month, it has been reported in the media that guns have found their way into 2 prisons.  One of the incidents resulted in the shooting of 2 inmates. These are just 2 incidents the media got wind of!  Therefore before you think that it must be an isolated incident of a corrupt officer, I implore you to look deeper.  You couldn’t pay most regular folks to walk into a prison.  How about walking into a prison with a lapse factor of 21%?

The corrections officers were again cut out of the special pay issue raise that is in this years budget for the other state officers.  Despite the fact that the department has the following responsibility per F.S.S. 944.023, Crews, even when led to water by the legislature, HAS NOT ASKED NOR ADVOCATED FOR RAISES FOR THE OFFICERS!

F.S.S. 944.023

(3)(d) To provide fair and adequate compensation and benefits to the employees of the state correctional system.

(4)(g) A plan reflecting parity of pay or comparable economic benefits for correctional officers with that of law enforcement officers in this state, and an assessment of projected impacts on turnover rates within the department.

To sum things up, the inmate population had no significant changes.  Despite the addition of 245 positions last year, the number of officers reported in DOC’s budget request is 727 officers less than the year before.  The highest lapse factor reported last year was 15.4% and this year it is 21%.  The department requested funds to lower the lapse rate to 5% last year yet this year they only requested funds to lower the lapse factor to 8%.  The turnover rate for 2013 was over 15%.  Officers have been excluded now 2 years in a row from the officer special issue pay raise and are leaving in packs for other agencies.  We send good men and women who committed to this already inherently dangerous job to work in these prisons everyday and every night.  Most of these officers are raising families on a salary less than 40k per year.  What is happening is downright dangerous for the officers and the public, wrong for the taxpayer, wrong for the economy, wrong for the family values the state purports and just plain wrong!

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