Despite warnings from state prison directors, the Senate is trying to reduce its correction system

As Florida lawmakers begin to put together a state budget, Senate Republican leaders intend to close four state prisons and raise state chief prison officials in a budget dispute that could lead to the early release of prisoners. It seems to be against.

The funding battle is focused on a $ 140 million budget cut, and the Florida Correctional Bureau needs to close at least four state prisons by the end of the year and plan to demolish the facility by June 2024.

The state legislature has no opinion on the plan. Corrective authorities will understand how to reduce at least 6,000 prison beds through prison closures and submit plans to Governor Ron DeSantis, Senator Wilton Simpson, and Speaker of the House Chris Sprawls for approval. is needed.

In a statement, Amendment Secretary Mark Inch said he was “disappointed” with Congress’s first budget proposal, warning that it would have a “significant” impact on the ability of government agencies to carry out their missions.

Inch said in a letter sent on March 3, a few weeks before the Senate announced its first budget, to Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Budget Committee Chairman Keith Perry.

“Due to the level of staff, this department lacks the functional ability to absorb inmates in closed facilities, especially the numerous criminals in county prisons who are pending transfer to our system. Coupled with, “Inch wrote to Perry.

In a letter and a committee hearing earlier this month, Inch ordered the closure of more than a dozen dormitories already this year, but said the closure of the prison would be a “serious mistake in judgment.”

If that happened, Inch could exceed its 99% legal capacity in six months, and early release of prisoners as part of the state law management and release management process. Warned that it could cause.

“I can’t close the prison,” Inch told Perry. “I can’t be clearer than that.”

However, the Florida Police Charity Association, a union representing prison officers, supports the Senate’s proposal to consolidate prisons, claiming to “improve serious staffing problems” in the prison system.

Matt Packet, Secretary-General of the PBA, said: “In reality, we don’t need four facilities nearby. We need one large facility with sufficient staff and AC.”

The union’s position is that correctors should temporarily close the facility, shift staff, and move prisoners to nearby facilities.

“If the inmates’ population reaches a point where more bed space is needed, the suspended facility can be returned online,” says the union.

Tension in the air

The funding dispute had already spilled over to a tense budget hearing in the Senate last week, and was once again controversial when the Senate Expenditure Commission considered Congress’s first budget proposal on Wednesday.

At a meeting on Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff Brandes argued that the proposed integration plan was inconsistent with Inch’s vision. He was also worried that the plan would not help with the underlying problem of staff shortages underway at the Corrections Bureau.

Since the start of the pandemic a year ago, Florida’s prison population has fallen sharply to about 79,000, and prison admissions have fallen by 50%, Perry said. The population of prisoners is expected to grow as the state court system resumes trials and begins to address the unhandled portion of the ever-growing number of cases.

Jason Pizzo, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Commission, is concerned that the integrated prison system could be overwhelmed by a sudden influx of prisoners.

“How are we going into a large class action proceeding?” Pizzo said last week. “Why isn’t this a gross negligence?”

During the meeting on Wednesday, Perry addressed those concerns again.

“I don’t think these reductions will make the criminal justice system unprepared when jury trials resume,” he said. “I don’t know how quickly this will happen and what level of resources will be needed to meet this demand.”

Brandes put pressure on Perry on Wednesday over staffing issues. He says that about 40 correctional facilities in Florida are in “urgent or critical staffing,” and the state spends about $ 90 million overtime each year as a result of years of problems with retaining and hiring correctional workers. Pointed out.

“We know we need to increase the salaries of prison officers, but does this budget have prison officer salaries?” Brandes asked Perry during the meeting.

The Senate’s budget doesn’t include a salary increase, but the Senate “is working on it,” he said, confirming that the Senate is in line with the House on the matter.

Brandes tried to modify the Senate budget to include $ 30 million, which he said would provide an estimated 8,000 correction workers with a $ 2,000 bonus. The amendment failed primarily because it contained words (unrelated to salary increases) that Senate Expenditure Committee Chairman Kelly Stargel committed “deadly sins.”

So what’s on the table?

Both the Senate and House budgets contain language that confuses the state’s prison system integration plan.

However, the House proposal is not as rigorous and broad as the Senate plan.

The Senate is demanding plans that could result in the demolition of at least four prisons, but the House of Representatives has given the corrective authorities the option to submit plans to consider closing two state prisons.

The House plan will also allow the department to submit budget requests for salary increases and will require the department to include in the plan how cost savings from prison closures will lead to prison officer salary increases. ..

“I don’t know how far this is going. I think it’s worth pursuing,” Packet said. “If it poses a threat to the general public, prison officers and prisoners, you know that everyone would say,’OK, that’s not something we can go with.’ “

However, Mr. Packet states that salary increases and staffing stability are the union’s top priorities.

“If this [the consolidation plan] Rather than converting a prison to a shorter shift, this is a much better approach to stabilizing staffing. This is an initiative driven by Inch to deal with overtime.

Inch promoted a switch from a 12-hour shift to an 8.5-hour shift in 17 prisons, despite opposition from the union. The dispute spilled over into a court battle, and Inch urged Congress to continue funding the initiative.