TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Department of Corrections Wednesday added two names to a memorial honoring fallen correctional officers. Neither of the two died at the hands of an inmate, but how many more names are added in the future may depend on how quickly the department can hire and retain officers.
Every time a correctional officer walks through secure gates and into work, they don't know if they’ll be coming out alive. And, while police officers face the same risk, they are armed. Correctional officers are not, even though many inmates have weapons.
“We will forever honor their legacy, commitment, dedication and service,” correctional Officer Jerry Waters said.
Two officers died on duty in 2016. Neither were at the hands of an inmate, but instead, from the stress of the job.
"Having a heart attack is no different than being taken out by an inmate, in my estimation,” corrections secretary Julie Jones said.
However, the names of officers who have been beaten, punched and stabbed on an almost daily basis, are not on the memorial.
Since 2010, inmate-on-inmate assaults are up more than 68 percent. Inmate-on-officer assaults are up 56 percent. Part of the problem is a vacancy rate of more than 20 percent in some prisons, requiring 16-hour shifts. Lawmakers responded with $56 million for pay raises and hiring bonuses.
“It does open the employment pool to individuals who would not have ever considered us because of the pay, but then this pay plan also rewards the ones who have stayed with us,” Jones said.
With the additions of two names this year, 49 names are now listed on the correctional officer memorial. How many more are added in the future may well depend on how quickly the DOC can find qualified staff and increase safety for everyone.
Since 2010, turnover among officers has been 95 percent. To stem the flow, officers under the rank of captain will see a $2,500 raise come July 1. New hires will see $1,000 hiring bonus, and officers who see promotions will also see a raise.