Families hoping National Guard will leave Florida prisons soon

Guardsmen continue to fill vacancies during corrections officer shortage
Published: Jul. 27, 2023 at 7:26 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 27, 2023 at 7:27 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV/Gray Florida Capital Bureau) - Time is running out for the state to solve its correctional officer shortage. The National Guard is temporarily deployed to prisons across the state in desperate need of officers.

“They very much seemed to be on edge,” said one woman who didn’t want to be identified to protect her loved one who is in a prison where National Guard members are stationed.

“In the beginning, they told me ‘they seemed pretty decent, a couple of them passed me on the sidewalk and said hello,’” the woman said.

This woman said that gave her hope prisoners would be treated better by the guard.

“Recently, it’s more like this is just more of the same. And these people have military experience and how aggressive will they get with him?” she said.

National Guard members are only in the prisons with the most correction officer openings. Union leaders tell me the goal is to get those guard members out.

“It’s only a band-aid on the problem. It gives the department a chance to hire and recruit new officers,” Florida Police Benevolent Association state corrections chapter president James Baiardi said.

Baiardi said he asked Gov. Ron DeSantis for help last year since the state is short 5,000 corrections officers. That deployment is extended to the end of the year.

Baiardi is hopeful raises approved by the legislature will help get the guard out of prisons.

“It had 10 years of neglect before. I don’t think we will be able to fix it in two or three years. We see a light at the end of the tunnel, we’re just not out of danger yet,” said Baiardi.

But family members are hoping the Florida Department of Corrections takes steps sooner.

“There are ways to safely reduce the prison population. They can start with the sick and elderly who have someone to take care of them,” the woman said.

The Florida Department of Corrections has said National Guard members are not in direct supervision of the inmates.