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Florida governor wants to give prison guards a raise

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Florida Gov. Rick Scott, in an attempt to deal with recurring turnover and job vacancies in the state’s troubled prison system, is proposing to boost the pay of prison guards and other correctional employees.

Scott wants state legislators to spend nearly $46 million on a detailed proposal that would offer pay raises and bonuses to correctional officers and probation officers. The governor will include the proposal as part of his annual budget recommendations to the Florida Legislature.

“Gov. Scott believes in making investments in the Department of Corrections that allow (the agency) to better recruit officers and ensure that they have an experienced workforce,” said McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for the governor. “These investments will allow them to address vacancies and hiring challenges they have had and also work to improve officer safety at the institutions and decrease the cost of overtime.”

Scott’s plan calls for increasing the base pay for entry-level prison system employees as well as those in higher ranks. Entry-level prison guards would see their pay jump from $30,926 to $33,500, or an increase of more than eight percent.

Another part of Scott’s proposal would call for giving a one-time $1,000 hiring bonus to those guards hired at prisons that have a job vacancy rate of 10 percent or higher. Prison system employees working in a mental health unit at a prison would also be given a bump in their base pay.

Scott has already proposed a 5 percent pay raise for the state’s highway patrol troopers, wildlife officers and state law enforcement agents.

Florida’s prison system, which has nearly 100,000 prison inmates, has come under fire the last few years from everything from inmate deaths to poor conditions. Julie Jones took over the department in December 2014 and since then has pushed for more staff and more money to repair prison buildings that she says has contributed to the problems.

Last year, Jones tried unsuccessfully to get additional positions authorized. She wanted the extra jobs so guards would work an eight hour shift instead of a 12-hour shift.

The governor will release his complete budget recommendations next week, but it’s unclear how they will be received in the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature. While Senate Republicans have talked about the need to give state workers a raise, House Speaker Richard Corcoran has promised to cut spending by at least $1 billion in the coming year.

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