Lawmakers approve a plan to expand the deployment of Florida National Guard members to work at prisons

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Prison bars illustration by Rawf8 via iStock for WMNF News.

©2023 The News Service of Florida

With high job vacancy rates at prisons and an increase in the number of inmates, lawmakers agreed Wednesday to transfer just over $25 million to expand the deployment of Florida National Guard members to help at correctional facilities.

The Joint Legislative Budget Commission, which is made up of House and Senate members and can make mid-year budget decisions, also approved purchasing 58 currently leased trailers that will serve as housing for members of the National Guard and family members.

“Although the recruitment and hiring of correctional officers has improved, new correctional officers must complete a 13-week training program,” Florida Department of Corrections Budget Director Lavitta Stanford told the legislative panel. “In an effort to provide relief to existing staff and reduce overtime, the utilization of the Florida National Guard members is necessary to assist facilities through June 30, 2024.”

Under the plan, $23.5 million will pay salaries for 100 additional guard members to work at prisons through June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

The guard members’ duties “exclude any direct supervision of inmates, except where such supervision occurs as a normal part of manning control stations or when required in an emergency situation pertaining to safety and security,” according to the proposal that went to lawmakers.

The proposal also called for $1.6 million to purchase “currently leased modular homes to continue housing” guard members.

The members are expected to pay $50 every other week to live in the trailers, which would eventually be taken over by correctional officers.

Following an executive order issued in September 2022 by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the state directed $30 million as 300 guard members were assigned to work in the prison system.

In an effort to address prison staffing shortages and high turnover rates, the Legislature has authorized hiring and retention bonuses for correctional officers and hiked starting salaries, but problems persist.

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