Crumbling infrastructure, staffing shortages, growing population: Florida prisons could be headed toward crisis

The initial results of a state-commissioned audit found Florida’s prison system is unsustainable without significant changes and billions of dollars in investment.

The state budgeted $5 million for the audit which is being conducted by global consulting firm KPMG.

The consultants have spent 15 months looking into the Florida Department of Corrections and they found that without a change of course, Florida prisons could be headed toward crisis.

Crumbling infrastructure, staffing shortages and a prison population that’s expected to grow are converging into critical challenges for the Florida Department of Corrections.

“Unfortunately like a lot of other systems, Florida is now facing a bit of a perfect storm,” said KPMG consultant Jeff Goodale.

Consultants shared the preliminary results of a 20-year plan for Florida prisons with state Senators at a committee hearing last week and laid out what could happen if something doesn’t change.

“The consequences can be dire and can be very expensive, and I think the biggest one is it can actually erode your public safety system,” they said.

They said the state could face the risk of forced releases of inmates, lawsuits and even a federal takeover of its prisons.

The consultants’ work also highlights the risks of aging infrastructure in Florida prisons and the lack of air conditioning in 75% of housing units.

“I was just appalled,” said Connie Edson who sat in on the senate committee hearing last week. She became an advocate for air conditioning in Florida prisons after she learned about the issue when a loved one was incarcerated.

She and the consultants note that a lack of A/C makes it harder to hire correctional officers.

“And you’re just sweating and drenched, you can’t possibly do the job that you’ve been hired to do,” Edson said.

The audit found there’s been around a 25% staff turnover rate in recent years, which last year contributed to more than 85,000 shifts left unfilled, at below-emergency staffing levels.

Edson said she thinks lawmakers should consider incarcerating fewer people and expanding options like house arrest.

“These are just people. We could look at that, we could solve this really huge problem that we have. And we have to have a solution,” she said.

The consultants are planning to finalize their report in December.

Right now, they estimate the Department of Corrections will need between $6 and $12 billion over the next 20 years, but these are just options they’re presenting. The final decision on how to address the needs of Florida’s prisons will be up to lawmakers.

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