Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has activated the state National Guard in a bid to aid corrections officers amid staffing issues at prisons.
The Department of Corrections “is authorized to employ over 20,000 correctional and correctional probation officers, almost a quarter of all state employees,” the governor’s order states, noting that there’s currently a “severe shortage” of officers that “threatens the safety” of inmates, officers, and the public.
The state’s corrections agency said that National Guard members will be deployed as a supplemental measure to security posts at some institutions. They will be supervised by respective prison wardens or similar staff, the agency said.
“We think, as we continue to hire and reduce the stress on the compounds, the existing officers are going to want to stay because they’re not going to work that amount of overtime they’re currently working,” Department of Corrections Chief Financial Officer Mark Tallent told WPTV. “They’re going to have a better family life, be able to get out of the institution more. We definitely think we’re trending in the right direction.”
The Guard members won’t be expected to directly supervise inmates, according to DeSantis’s order.
“Members of the Guard have the training and capability to assist Florida’s correctional officers with certain duties, such as manning guard towers, perimeter patrols, and control stations, which will allow the correctional officers to concentrate on directly supervising and caring for inmates,” the Republican governor’s order reads.
Earlier this year, DeSantis approved a pay increase to recruit and retrain current corrections officers.
Florida National Guard Lt. Col. Peter Jennison told the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper that he expects all the Guard members who are assigned would volunteer for the prison assignments.
Tallent said that as many as 300 National Guard members would be deployed.
“We think we’ll be able to right-size ourselves by the end of the fiscal year,” he said.
Democrats in the state Legislature expressed concerns about DeSantis’s order. A leader within the Florida Democratic caucus said the Legislature has ignored funding of the Department of Corrections for years.
“Florida has ignored this agency and ignored this problem, and underfunded this agency for years,” Democrat House Minority Leader-designate Rep. Fentrice Driskell said on Sept. 9. “Now, it looks like the governor wants to activate the Florida National Guard, which will take people away from their homes, their families, and their jobs.”
Nonetheless, members of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission voted on Sept. 9 to approve sending Florida National Guard members to the prisons. The GOP and most Democrats supported the plan, with Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Ramon Alexander opposing it.
Shortly after the vote, DeSantis activated the Guard via executive order, local media reported.