High turnover rate, low salaries create vacancies at Florida Department of Corrections

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS DESK) - Governor Rick Scott is the jobs governor, claiming more than 1.2 million new jobs since taking office. But as many as 2,500 jobs remain open in one state agency with no takers.

The Florida Department of Corrections has held job fairs. There are "now hiring" signs out side every prison, and on many of the departments vehicles. Still, the agency has a vacancy rate of ten percent, forcing officers to work long hours. The problem, a $29,000 starting salary.

"Right now they are working 12-hour shifts plus another four," Corrections Secretary Julie Jones said. "We are working them to death because of the vacancy rate. I don't have time to train them."

It's not just vacancies, but sky-high turnover as well. Jones told lawmakers the turnover rate was just under 30 percent this year. She is asking for higher pay and signing bonuses, but making them reality could be a problem.

"Going from 30 to 33 leaves a lot to be desired, but its a step in the right direction," Sen. Aaron Bean, the Prison Budget Chairman, said.

Because of the high turnover rate, the most experienced officers in some prisons have just two years on the job. The inexperience may have lead to at least six major disturbances over conditions this past year.

"We have a lot of people who can calm down an inmate, but we don't have enough of them, and we don't have them everywhere we should have them," Jones said.

Prisons were shortchanged during the recession, and lawmakers cut taxes during the recovery. Now they say there is not enough to make ends meet, which will leave the Department of Corrections at the bottom of the heap again.

Many officers leave the department for greener pastures and more money, including local police and sheriff's offices where starting salaries are often $40,000 or more.