TALLAHASSEE (WFLA) – The Florida Department of Corrections is moving ahead with plans to change from 12 hour shifts to 8 and a half hour shifts in at least a third of the state’s prisons.
The move is opposed by the union representing officers, but in an exclusive interview, the new Secretary said he’s banking his department’s future on the change.
Faced with a staffing crisis just over seven years ago, state prisons moved to 12 hour shifts with rotating days off.
Instead of solving the problem, 3,000 of the 13,000 positions used to guard inmates are vacant.
Corrections Secretary Mark Inch calls it a downward spiral.
“You know, As the vacancies increase, you have to rely more on the overtime, but as you rely more on the overtime, the vacancies increase,” said Inch.
Officers now working 12 hour shifts can be ordered to work four hours of overtime.
Before the 12 hour shifts, the department spent $6 million a year on overtime.
Last year it was $70 million.
It is part of the reason the system has seen an uptick in staff on inmate violence.
“Fatigue affects behavior, of course,” said Inch.
But the union representing the officers opposes the change to shorter shifts.
“Every once in a while, they get a weekend off, where when they go to the eight hour shift, that’s not gonna happen. And that’s very important to the officers,” said James Baiardi with the Florida Police Benevolent Association.
Union aside, the Secretary says the agency is going forward with the pilot
“We’re not going to convince them all, but we are going to bring in a whole new generation of correctional officers, because this is about being able to bring in and retain a new generation of corrections professionals,” said Inch.
Under the plan, a third of the prisons would move to 8 hour shifts next summer.
The conversion of the rest of the department will be based on how the pilot works and lawmakers providing the funding for more hires.
Part of the plan also calls for $1,500 bonuses after two years on the job, and $2,500 more after five years.