DeSantis backs plan to hire more prison inspectors and boost their pay

Florida prisons incarcerate 96,000 men and women. Twelve state prison employees are infected with COVID-19. Florida also has nine federal prisons, incarcerating nearly 10,000 inmates. Credit: Florida Department of Corrections

Gov. Ron DeSantis is backing a plan to improve Florida’s prison inspection system.

In his proposed $91.4 billion budget for next year, the Republican governor supports the Department of Correction’s request for 20 additional prison inspectors, who play a critical role in investigating deaths, corruption and criminal activity in a prison system with some 96,000 inmates.

As previously reported by the Florida Phoenix, the department’s Office of Inspector General investigative staff is overwhelmed, leading to delays and questions about the quality and accuracy of the investigations.

In the last budget year that ended on June 30, the 96 inspectors were responsible for resolving 10,991 cases. It works out to each prison inspector handling some 115 cases.

“High volume case assignment has (a) negative impact on quality, accuracy and timeliness of the investigative process,” the Department of Corrections said in its budget request for 2020-21, which will be considered by the Legislature when it begins its annual session in January.

“A more manageable caseload will help ensure that investigations are thorough, reliable and timely,” the department said.

DeSantis is recommending a $1.5 million increase in the new state budget to allow the agency to hire an additional 20 inspectors. If approved by lawmakers, the staff increase will allow the inspectors to move toward a more “manageable” caseload. However, the range of 62 to 67 cases per investigator would be ideal.

The Department of Corrections has also had difficulty retaining prison inspectors because in addition to heavy workloads, inspector pay has been lower than the pay for inspectors in other state agencies. In 2018-19, there was a 32 percent turnover among the prison inspectors, according to the agency.

DeSantis is also backing a $61 million pay package for the prison staff, including corrections and probation officers as well as the inspectors. If approved by lawmakers, the proposal would increase pay for all staff members who have served at least two years by $1,500. Staff members who have at least five years of service would see a $2,500 increase.

The Florida Phoenix previously reported on the prison system’s difficulty in retaining corrections officers in this story.