(The Center Square) – Gov. Ron DeSantis activated the Florida National Guard in an effort to provide ongoing assistance to the state’s corrections officers.
Activating the guard will help reduce overtime for corrections officers and provide temporary staffing relief as the state continues to fill vacancies. They were activated immediately as of Sept. 9 for a period of nine months or until they are no longer needed.
The action, initiated through executive order, comes after the governor and the legislature authorized record pay increases to recruit and retain corrections officers. These and other incentives have already resulted in the state gaining 640 new officers since the 2022 legislative session ended this spring. It’s a record gain compared to a net loss of more than 465 officers during the same time period in the previous year, the governor’s office says.
The state’s goal is to continue to bring more highly qualified officers to the Florida Department of Corrections. The department’s primary directive is to “protect society by providing incarceration that will support the intentions of established criminal law,” according to Florida statute. It’s responsible for caring for and maintaining custody of more than 80,000 inmates who’ve been convicted of committing crimes.
While the department is authorized to employ more than 20,000 correctional and correctional probation officers, it’s been experiencing a severe shortage of employees, which has resulted in the department temporarily closing 176 inmate dorms and suspending 431 supervised work squads, the governor’s office says.
The “shortage threatens the safety of officers, inmates, and the public,” DeSantis said. The legislature’s incentive package has already begun to attract highly qualified individuals to fill vacancies for the long term; in the short term to provide relief to those in the National Guard will help fill the gaps.
According to the Florida Constitution, guardsmen and women can be used “to preserve the public peace [and] execute the laws of the state.” According to state statute, guardsmen and women can be used to “enhance domestic security” and “respond to any need for emergency aid to civil authorities” and to “provide extraordinary support to law enforcement upon request.”
Members of the Florida National Guard will be tasked with staffing guard towers and patrolling perimeters and control stations, which will enable correctional officers to focus more on supervising and caring for inmates. They won’t be responsible for any direct supervision of inmates “except where such supervision occurs as a normal part of manning control stations or when required in an emergency pertaining to safety and security,” according to the order.
The newly enacted Law Enforcement Recruitment Bonus Program provides one-time bonus payments of up to $5,000 for new Florida law enforcement officers and officers relocating to Florida from out of state.
A new Florida Law Enforcement Academy Scholarship Program also was made available to new recruits. It covers tuition, fees and up to $1,000 of eligible education expenses for trainees in a law enforcement basic recruit training program. Certified officers who relocate to Florida may also receive a reimbursement of up to $1,000 for equivalency training costs.
Among other programs launched in Florida, those in law enforcement may also qualify for the Hometown Heroes housing program, which helps those serving to be able to afford to live in the communities where they serve.
By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor