Senator vows help for corrections department

Looking in to the dangers of the job as a correctional officer.
Looking in to the dangers of the job as a correctional officer.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With the Florida Department of Corrections asking to boost pay for entry-level employees to help fight turnover, "help is on the way from the Florida Senate," according to the chamber's top budget writer.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, told his panel Thursday that he and other Senate leaders had agreed to help the agency try to stop the outflow of correctional officers to higher-paying private-sector and local jobs.

"Our budget will include some substantial help for you," Latvala told Corrections Secretary Julie Jones, who presented a pay plan to the committee.

Latvala said the details were still being hammered out, in part because state economists will meet Friday to project how much money lawmakers will have to work with as they craft a budget for the year that begins July 1.

Jones told the committee her plan has three prongs: raising pay for correctional officers, probation officers and some supervisors; a hiring bonus for some employees at facilities with high vacancy rates; and additional pay for those who work with inmates with mental health problems.

The department has already taken some steps to try to tamp down turnover among its newest employees, Jones said, by strengthening penalties meant to recoup training costs for those who leave the agency within their first two years.

"But I truly believe that without some kind of a pay package for recruitment and retention, we have nothing left to offer employees to keep them beyond those two years," she said.