Pinellas County Senator calls for correctional department reform ahead of legislative session

by | Jan 5, 2022


Senator Jeff Brandes (Congressional District 24), who serves as Chairman on the Appropriations Subcommittee board on Criminal and Civil Justice and Vice Chairman of the Criminal Justice subcommittee, on Wednesday took to Twitter ahead of the upcoming legislative session to call for changes within the Florida Department of Corrections.

Brandes in March proposed an expansive catalog of bills to the Senate floor regarding the criminal justice system including the creation of a new juvenile justice program, criminal sentencing regulation, and prohibiting certain persons from being sentenced to mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment. All of Brandes’ proposed bills died in subcommittee delegations.

“As we prepare to go into the legislative session let’s spend a few minutes talking about what’s going on in the Florida Department of Corrections and how the state is managing the collapse of the department,” said Brandes on Twitter. “This is because we are facing a shortage of almost 5800 corrections officers throughout the state. It’s a difficult job and the pay is meager at best.”

Brandes went on to explain that 40 percent of correctional officers leave the department within their 1st year of employment, and that figure rises to 60 percent before they hit 2 years. Many of the correctional officers are recruited by local sheriff’s offices and police departments, who are able to offer signing bonuses and higher pay grades.

The shortage has led to what Brandes calls inmate idleness, giving first-hand accounts of visiting prisons that house 1,500 inmates yet employ very few officers or teachers for correctional programs.

“The bigger problem right now is that we simply cannot manage 80,000 inmates given our current staffing levels, and a few months ago we had inmates in emergency beds. We were close to having to do emergency releases,” continued Brandes. “We stopped taking inmates into the Department of Corrections and held them at local jails. Currently, we have almost 2,000 inmates in local county jails who should be in prison.”

Brandes stressed the toll that leadership changes in recent years have taken on the functionality of the department from an overhead level. Due to retirement and stress, 5 prison wardens left their positions, and Brandes claims that upwards of 9 secretaries have come and gone during his tenure.

Brandes recommends the state increase funding and creates a new vision for its corrections system. Governor Ron DeSantis recently made efforts to mitigate the correctional officer shortage in his recent ‘Freedom First’ state budget, allocating funds to raise wages for officers, as well as incentivizing new hires with bonuses akin to what police officers are receiving.

“As we enter a new legislative session many of the proposals I have seen so far are a step in the right direction,” concluded Brandes. “I have hope that some will advance but I’m also a realist.”

The first legislative session of the new year is slated to begin on January 11th.


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