Governor's plan for prisons facing push back from officers

By: Mike Vasilinda | Capitol News Service
November 20, 2019

The gain time initiative would reduce the time non-violent offenders spend in prison from 85 percent of their sentence, down to 65 percent. (Pxhere)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — Florida’s prison system is in a staffing crisis, and this week Governor Ron Desantis proposed hiring 292 new officers, but the system can’t fill the jobs it already has, and officers are pushing back on a plan to change their work schedules.

Systemwide, nearly one in five corrections officers positions are vacant.

To cover vacant shifts, the department moved from eight to 12 hour shifts nearly a decade ago.

It still regularly forces officers to work overtime.

“We have several institutions were the vacancy rate is above twenty percent, which is very dangerous for our correctional officers,” said Jim Baiardi with the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

As part of his budget, the Governor wants to spend $29 million for a pilot program to move offers back to an eight hour shift.

“And then try to do some incentive pay to keep people there because the morale has been low,” said DeSantis.

But the plan is getting pushback from officers and their union.

“It’s unpopular with about 80 percent of the officers,” said Baiardi.

Prisons are usually in remote areas and switching to eight hour shifts would mean more travel time.

The PBA has gotten nearly 300 emails from officers who don’t want to make the switch.

“The days off rotate and every once in a while, they get a weekend off. When they go to an eight hour shift, that’s not going to happen,” said Baiardi.

The PBA sued over the proposed change, arguing work hours were negotiable under the constitutionally protected collecting bargaining rights.

It won.

The state appealed.

And that appeal is giving some offices a bad taste.

They feel like the DOC holds them to a high standard, but then ignores the constitution when it comes to collective bargaining.

Baiardi believes the correct solution would be an across the board pay raise.

Under the Governor’s plan, officers would get a $1,500 raise for staying two years, and $2,500 more if they stay five years.

Starting salary is now at $33,500.

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