Florida DOC partners with National Guard due to staffing shortage

National Guard deployed to assist with prison guard shortage
Published: Sep. 9, 2022 at 6:02 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 9, 2022 at 6:37 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The Florida Department of Corrections is asking for unprecedented help due to staffing issues at state prisons.

The Corrections Secretary got the greenlight Friday to ask Governor Ron DeSantis to call up the National Guard for help in staffing state prisons and fill critical vacancies.

The state gave the greenlight to deploy up to 300 Florida National Guard members to assist the Florida DOC and alleviate the pressure that staffing shortages have put on the institutions.

The guards will be manning perimeter posts, entrance and exit security, and officer stations, but will not be in direct supervision of the inmates.

“We received historic pay increases for our correctional officers and have hired more correctional officers monthly than we have seen in years,” said Florida Department of Corrections Ricky Dixon. “With the temporary support of the Florida National Guard we will be able to recover and train the next generation of public safety professionals to perform our important mission.”

The amendment was adopted by a vote of six to two lawmakers approving the deployment of 300 National Guard members to serve the Florida DOC filling critical staff vacancies in state prisons.

“What this will allow the department to do is take the staff that are certified correctional officers and move them into the compound, into direct inmate contact positions. Therefore, reducing stress on the compound, stress on our current officers and stress on the inmates,” Peter Jennison with the National Guard said.

Jennison said current DOC officer vacancies sit at 21% - so a little over 4,000 spots need to be filled.

Now the Florida National Guard will be serving state prisons while guards currently in the training academy complete their certifications.

“Based on our current four-month trend we do think that nine months is going to be enough. But you know, things change,” Jennison said.

The guards will be deployed on an active status, same as if they were responding to a hurricane, and will receive additional benefits for their lengthy deployment from the state.

“As a recently retired Guardsman of 32 years, I fully appreciate the preparedness and support functions of Florida’s National Guard and am honored to have them working alongside our staff,” said Warden Paul Allen, Wakulla Correctional Institution.

While the DOC continues to work with the state to improve correctional officer retention rates, lawmakers had their concerns, but approved the amendment for the sake of the institutions and the inmates.

“There truly are some ideas and opportunities for us to fix this issue. So while I support it I am certainly concerned of the cost of this very expensive sealant,” a representative said.

The price tag for the plan is $32 million.

“The prospect of having Guardsman come in while we continue to fill vacancies and train new correctional professionals is incredible,” said Warden Joseph Edwards, Reception and Medical Center. “We’re seeing an increase in applicants since the gracious pay raise and are looking forward to the road ahead.”

Several people from around the state voiced their disagreements over the new deployments, even saying some non-violent drug offenders should be released to alleviate the pressure in the penal system.