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DOJ asks for 10 percent raises for prison guards, but is it enough?

Turnover in Florida prisons leads to dangerous conditions for inmates, officers

File photo
File photo (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Fla. – Inmate Jeffrey Flynn has paid the price for low staffing levels at the Franklin Correctional Institution.

Flynn, a nonviolent offender serving four years for kidnapping his own son, was stabbed by a fellow inmate at the prison.

“I went into shock,” Flynn said. “I lost most of my blood and they ended up having to bag me on both arms just to stabilize me.”

In addition to nearly dying, he’s seen firsthand what’s it like when the prison system doesn’t have enough staff members.

“Everywhere you go, there are groups,” Flynn said. “Well, just call them groups.”

“Gangs?” we asked.

“Yeah,” Flynn said. “And they target people and they have cellphones.”

When asked why cellphones were so important, Flynn answered, “(They) contact the outside world to run their business.”

We questioned whether that meant drug business, and Flynn said he didn’t know.

Statewide, only one in four officers has more than two years of experience. In February, the vacancy rate at Franklin Correctional was at 24 percent, officials said.

The budget being negotiated by state lawmakers would give the prison system about $40 million more than last year. In March, the Department of Justice got approval from lawmakers after they were told violence inside against staff and inmates was up more than 50 percent.

The department is also asking lawmakers for enough money to give everyone a 10 percent raise, and to include a $10,000 hiring bonus for workers in some prisons.

But 10 percent raises aren’t likely to stem the bleeding. After a year in the position, officers often can get a job at a local jail and earn $10,000 a year more -- not to mention the job is safer.

Gang activity, according to the Department of Corrections, is up by more than 40 percent in the past six years.