Audit warns that safety at Florida prisons is compromised by staffing concerns

TALLAHASSEE — Florida’s prisons are infiltrated by drugs, tobacco and cell phones, dependent on outdated security systems, run by inexperienced and overstretched staff, and are housing inmates who are staying longer — and returning just as frequently.

In short, the nation’s third largest prison system runs a daily risk of becoming another headline, according to the findings of a comprehensive study conducted by 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 for its basic core services.

“Until these work force issues are addressed, challenges in maintaining a safe and secure system will continue,” concluded the report completed by CGL, a prison consulting firm out of Sacramento, California.

Department spokesman McKinley Lewis said the agency “is currently reviewing” the report but would not elaborate on what its response will be. “We look forward to considering the implementation of policy recommendations that are not already in place,” he said.

The $300,000 for the comprehensive study was tucked into the budget by lawmakers in June after attempts to create an independent oversight commission fell apart in the face of resistance from the governor and the agency.

The researchers surveyed staff and inmates at 14 of Florida’s prisons and administrative headquarters over three months. They included 284 interviews of managers, correctional officers and program staff as well as staff focus groups to “identify morale issues and to capture the perceptions of management policies.”

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