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Department of Corrections holds job fair to boost staffing

DOC had vacancy rate of 10 percent last year

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Help wanted: individual who works well under pressure, even-tempered, willing to work 12-hour shifts with murderers, rapists, armed robbers and others. Below market pay. Uniforms provided.

That's how a want ad for the Department of Corrections might read, and it's no wonder that the department has 1,300 openings on any given day.

The Department of Corrections took some of the deepest cuts of any agency during the recession. Its budget this year is still $200 million less than it was in 2010.

"We cut too deep in core areas in critical positions," Corrections Secretary Julie Jones said.

The result is short staffing. DOC had a vacancy rate of 10 percent last year. It's down to just under 7 percent now.

"I lose them to retirement. I lose them to disciplinary reasons. I lose them to other agencies," Jones said. "So there is a need at any one time for 1,300 to 1,400."

The agency plans to hire 4,000 corrections officers this year by holding job fairs. Candidates trickled in during a Wednesday job fair. Two applicants were former officers who left for greener pastures and want to come back.

"The position I was in as a correctional officer gives me a chance to supervise the inmates and enable them to help themselves," Curtis Pride said.

Others were first-time job seekers.

"Like, I'm harsh. I'll be harsh if I have to. But I love the human race, even if sometimes they don't love me back," Sarah Spell said.

Even if an applicant was accepted Wednesday, about one in five don't make it through the process because he or she fails a background check or some other flaw is found.

To cope with the shortage of job candidates, corrections officials plan to close some prisons where finding good staff is tough, then open work camps and a mothballed prison in a more populated area. In the end, it will still need to pay more than most local jails, which it doesn't do now.

The starting salary for a corrections officer is just over $30,000 a year. DOC also provides inexpensive health care and paid vacations.