Florida prisons are infiltrated by drugs and tobacco, dependent on outdated security systems, run by inexperienced and overstretched staff, and house inmates who are staying longer and returning just as frequently, says an audit report quoted by the Miami Herald. In short, the nation's third-largest prison system runs a daily risk of becoming another headline, says an independent firm hired at the direction of the Florida Legislature. At the core of the critique is chronic understaffing and years of budget cuts that have left the agency starved for funding. “Until these workforce issues are addressed, challenges in maintaining a safe and secure system will continue,'' concluded the report by CGL, a prison consulting firm in Sacramento, Ca.
Researchers surveyed staff and inmates at 14 of Florida's prisons and administrative headquarters over three months. They included 284 interviews of managers, corrections officers and program staff as well as staff focus groups to “identify morale issues and to capture the perceptions of management policies.” Of the 45 recommendations for change, many are targeted at the legislature, which has cut millions from the corrections budget since 2010 and has restored only a small fraction of it. One key finding is that as Florida's prison population has declined, inmates have been staying longer, yet the state's crime rate has remained steady and the recidivism rate has remained the same. “People are staying longer, but does that lead to any deviation from the national average for re-arrests?'' asked Sen. Jeff Brandes. “I think the answer is no.” Brandes and Sen. Rob Bradley, both members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said the audit has raised new questions about the need for sentencing reform, especially for nonviolent offenders.