Calling Florida prisons “a ticking time bomb,” members of the union representing state corrections officers called on Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers on Wednesday to convene an emergency legislative session to address the state’s prison crisis.
One recent riot, several inmate uprisings, and widespread attacks on officers and inmates have alarmed members of Teamsters 2011, the union representing the state’s 2,000 corrections and probation officers.
“We recognize that this request is extraordinary, however under the present circumstances, it is necessary to prevent imminent harm and necessary for the safety of our officers,” wrote Kimberly Schultz, an elected delegate and candidate for president of the union, wrote to the governor, Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.
The odds of lawmakers agreeing to a special session are slim. Several Orlando-based Democrats have spent the past two weeks trying to convene a special session on gun control reforms but were unsuccessful, falling 46 votes short — with lawmakers divided along party lines.
Gardiner had not yet seen Schultz’s letter, and the Miami Herald was unsuccessful in reaching Crisafulli. Both lawmakers are Republicans.
Three recent outside audits of the department concluded that dangerous staffing levels leave the agency vulnerable to inmate disruptions at its 49 prisons. The agency loses about one-third of its corrections officers each year, according to the reports, and those who replace them are often young and inexperienced, with little or no training. Approximately one third of the agency’s corrections officers are trainees.
Officers are forced to work long hours of overtime, which cost taxpayers $18.2 million in 2014-15. At times, a single officer can be responsible for hundreds of inmates, and some guards are assigned on paper to cover multiple posts simultaneously — a practice known as “ghosting.”
Since January, there have been three uprisings at Franklin Correctional Institution in North Florida. Last month, inmates jumped a corrections officer and took over two dorms for several hours, causing nearly $100,000 in damage. The prisoners used makeshift tools to drill through a concrete and brick wall to try to escape. The riot ended several hours later; no one escaped and there were no serious injuries.