Report Highlights Continuing Problems with Florida Department of Corrections
The Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) was the subject of a recent Prison Legal News cover story that detailed prisoner deaths, excessive use of force by guards, and other types of misconduct and corruption. [See: PLN, Feb. 2016, p.1]. The FDOC was also criticized in a recent audit report issued by CGL, an independent consulting firm. The audit, funded by a $300,000 grant from Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, found that FDOC facilities continue to be mismanaged, racked by contraband, staffed by poorly trained personnel with high staff turnover, and lacking in programs to reduce recidivism.
The 178-page report explored the “adequacy of current facility staffing,” finding that the centralization of staff hiring had improved the number of newly-hired employees. However, it also found that the FDOC’s staff turnover rate had grown “by 50.4 percent over the last six years.” That resulted in a shortage of experienced employees in key positions, exposing both prisoners and staff to dangerous conditions.
“Half of the department’s correctional officers have less than 3.1 years of work experience,” and “at 5 of the 10 largest ... facilities, half of the staff has less than two years of work experience,” the audit stated. The number of Florida prison guards dropped from over 12,000 in 2006 to 10,974 as of June 30, 2015.
Several reasons were given for the FDOC’s staff retention problem. One was the relative stagnancy of staff salaries – compensation levels had not kept pace with other state prison systems, and even lagged behind Florida county jails.
“California and Illinois provide starting salaries that are 61 percent higher than Florida’s. Texas, which has perhaps the most comparable correctional system to Florida among the top 10 systems, provides a starting salary that is 12 percent higher,” the report said. The average annual starting wage for an FDOC guard was $31,951, while trainees start at $28,008 per year. The audit noted that Florida prison guards “have not received a general increase in pay in eight years.” Due to high turnover, many facilities “had at least intermittent issues of operating at or below minimum staffing levels.”
Although the report found that “Training for new officers meets recommended professional requirements,” it also mentioned that “[n]ot all facilities have an officially recognized training program.” One in ten FDOC guards have “yet to complete the required basic pre-service training.” As a result, inexperienced prison employees are often put into positions “with limited or no supervision,” which causes “minimal coverage of critical security and operational functions.”
In addition, the audit noted that staff turnover was disproportionately higher among newly-hired employees; that inexperienced staff tend to be assigned to “the most challenging post assignments”; and that almost 1,400 FDOC guards were on Temporary Employment Authorization (TEA) status, which meant they had not completed the basic training and certification program.
The report further cited “a significant number of staff” on non-inmate contact status because they were under investigation. At the time of the report, 95 FDOC employees were on non-contact status or administrative leave. The audit recommended that staff should not be allowed to work at institutions “when they are under investigation for serious violations.”
With respect to staffing issues, the report concluded that “Many of the operational deficiencies identified through this review can be directly or indirectly tied to the lack of an adequate work force that possesses the experience and skills to consistently carry out the mandates of the [FDOC] as outlined in policy and procedure. Until these work force issues are addressed, challenges in maintaining a safe and secure system will continue.”
The report also addressed use-of-force incidents, noting that such incidents had increased from 6,575 in FY 2010/11 to 7,460 in FY 2013/14, before dropping to 6,258 during the past fiscal year. With respect to recidivism, the FDOC publishes a “comprehensive recidivism report on an annual basis.” The most recent data, released in June 2015, found an average re-incarceration recidivism rate of 25.7%, which was a decline from 32.5% in 2006.
In regard to rehabilitative programming for prisoners, the audit recommended that “The Legislature should consider appropriating additional funds to increase the capacities of education, vocational, and substance abuse treatment programs. Providing more core programming would provide meaningful training and skills to a greater number of offenders, improve their chances of successful re-entry upon release, and reduce idleness while incarcerated.” Specifically, the report found that security operations at FDOC facilities often conflict with programming.
Finally, the audit made a number of other findings and recommendations related to security operations, management, classification, visitation, security threat groups and the introduction of contraband into state prisons. In the latter regard, the report cited data from FY 2013-14 which indicated that the FDOC’s Office of Inspector General had reported finding 1,783 cell phones, 477 knives or other sharp weapons and over two kilos of marijuana in state prisons during that fiscal year.
State Senator Greg Evers, who chairs the Florida Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee, expressed concern about the issues highlighted in the report.
“We are on the verge of seeing a dangerous situation get out of hand,” he said. “Inmates as well as corrections officers are being put in a situation where their life could be in jeopardy because of our zealousness in putting untrained people in positions overseeing inmates.”
Clearly, the FDOC has a great deal of work to do to improve its operations.
Sources: “Study of Operations of the Florida Department of Correction,” Florida Legislature, Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability (November 2015); www.miamiherald.com; www.oppaga.state.fl.us
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