“There’s no real long term plan:” former Sen. Jeff Brandes sounds alarm on Florida’s prison system

by | Mar 4, 2024

A KPMG report, brought to light by former Senator Jeff Brandes, indicates Florida’s prison system is on the brink of a crisis due to aging facilities, staff shortages, and a burgeoning inmate population, necessitating immediate and substantial reform and investment to prevent overwhelming the existing infrastructure.

Florida’s prison system faces a crisis of aging facilities, staffing shortages, and a growing inmate population that could overwhelm existing infrastructure within two decades, a report acquired through public record request by former Senator Jeff Brandes indicates.

In a conversation with The Capitolist, Brandes expressed concern over the absence of a comprehensive, long-term plan within the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC), stemming from a 20-year master plan within the report, compiled by KPMG, that outlines the necessity for extensive reform.

The report identifies four critical challenges confronting the state: an anticipated rise in the inmate population, urgent requirements for modernization, ongoing issues with staff vacancies and turnover, and security and safety concerns.

The plan calls for the construction of new prisons and medical facilities to accommodate the projected increase in the state’s incarcerated population, which is not only expected to grow but also age significantly, which demands more medical and ADA-compliant facilities, according to the report. The report forecasts an inmate population that is projected to potentially surpass the total capacity over the next two fiscal years if no action is taken.

“The [inmate] population is not only going to grow, but it’s also going to get older,” said Brandes. “So you’re going to need more medical facilities, more ADA compliant facilities, those types of things.”

Brandes additionally pointed out the necessity for constructing new prisons in South Florida due to severe staffing challenges in rural, northern areas, which are exacerbated by the absence of a sufficient local labor pool to fill essential positions.

“This is the challenge; Florida’s prison system today is located in rural communities in North Florida. But the problem is you can’t hire psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, and dentists in those communities,” he said. “There just isn’t the labor pool available in those markets.”

The FDC is facing significant staffing shortages, with operational vacancy rates as high as 72 percent in some facilities as of September 2023, despite recent pay increases for staff. Data aggregation found that a 23 percent increase in correctional officers is needed to adequately staff facilities, compounded by a 28 percent turnover rate among staff.

The report also notes that more than one-third of Florida’s correctional facilities are in critical or poor condition, necessitating immediate repair and modernization. It subsequently points to the need for significant investment to improve infrastructure and ensure the long-term viability. As listed, immediate costs total approximately $2.2 billion, with an overall 20-year capital cost projection of at least $6 billion to address issues within the correctional facilities it operates.

“We have punted this issue year after year after year,” said Brandes. “This report comes out and says you need to spend $2 billion immediately to bring these facilities up to par. [DCS has] $100 million in the budget, which is 10 times the money they had last year, but it’s also nowhere near $2 billion. It’s 5 percent of the money that the report calls out and says is needed immediately to handle the existing deterioration of these facilities.”

The report outlines three strategic options—Modernize, Manage, and Mitigate—for FDC aimed at addressing its long-term needs. The Modernize strategy proposes reopening closed facilities from 2024 onwards, building new hospitals by 2030 and 2035, and establishing new prisons by 2036, with additional expansions and closures planned to phase out outdated facilities.

The Manage option mirrors the initial reopening and building efforts but places greater emphasis on closing inefficient facilities. The Mitigate strategy focuses on facility improvements and reopening efforts without further expansions beyond the initial plans.

The Modernize strategy requires the highest investment of $11.9 billion over 20 years, whereas the Manage and Mitigate strategies call for lower investments of $9.0 billion and $6.3 billion, respectively.

Plan proposals aren’t enough to move the needle, however, says Brandes. He contends that it’s up to the Governor’s Office and the FDC to set the agenda for how they’re going to make decisions.

“These prisons aren’t getting cheaper to build, they’re gonna get more expensive, the land that they’re going to buy is gonna get more expensive. The the maintenance is going to continue to deteriorate and you know, inflation is going to eat up all of the savings they can find if they were to make some bold action today.”


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