Pay competitive market-based salaries for corrections staff

Pay "competitive market-based salaries for corrections staff."


Pay scales set for wardens but not rank-and-file prison workers

Part of Rick Scott's campaign pledge to trim $1 billion from the state's $2.1 billion prisons budget -- a promise we are monitoring here-- is "paying competitive market-based salaries for corrections staff."

His pick to lead the Department of Corrections, Ed Buss of Indiana, wanted a 5 percent pay cut for prison wardens. The administration ended up with a compromise.

Wardens used to be paid about the same across the state "regardless of size or complexity of the institution they managed," a Scott spokesman wrote in an email. Under Buss's administration, wardens, assistant wardens, colonels, majors and classification supervisors moved to a new three-tiered salary system. Wardens at the largest institutions with the most difficult populations receive $87,550 a year; those at medium-sized, general-purpose facilities get $82,550; and wardens at the smallest, least complex prisons get $77,550. (Buss resigned under pressure from Scott in August 2011.)

Wardens make up a tiny part of corrections staff. What, if anything, did Scott do to offer "competitive, market-based salaries" for about 11,000 state correctional officers who monitor locked-up inmates?

By "market-based," we assume he means pay from private prison vendors that are paid by the Department of Corrections to house inmates at a required cheaper price. A spokesman for Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, which runs four prisons and one county facility in Florida, placed 2011 starting salaries between $28,280 and $30,160, depending on the cost of living at each location. A spokesman for the Boca Raton-based GEO Group, which operates three prisons in Florida, said he was "unable to accommodate" our request.

Still, we know GEO Group pay is similar. Private sector correctional officers earned about $1,000 less than their public sector counterparts, making an average salary of $29,628, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's annual Criminal Justice Agency Profile Report, the most recent version of which covers 2010. State correctional officers earned an average salary of $30,808.

The public officers' take home salary ticked down a little in 2011, because of a new law requiring state employees to contribute by 3 percent as a pension contribution. This amounts to a cut of $924, bringing the annual salary down to $29,884, which is still slightly above the average starting salary for private officers without even factoring in the state's more generous pension and health care benefits. You could also argue that employees will get this cut back, and more, when they retire.

It's worth noting the 2011-12 budget Scott signed in May called for a massive expansion of privately run prisons and work camps in South Florida. The move would have required private prison vendors to operate the facilities at a savings of 7 percent, thereby reducing the agency's labor spending, which comprises the bulk of its budget. The agency spent $1.26 billion to cover about 27,600 employees in its 2011-12 budget.

The privatization effort was halted in September 2011 when a Tallahassee judge ruled it unconstitutional. The state has appealed.

Scott is not pursuing further reductions for state correctional officer pay in his 2012-13 budget recommendations.

So to recap, Scott has accomplished something -- he reorganized the pay of prison wardens. He also lowered the take home salary of other prison staff by forcing them to contribute to their pension. While it's not a lot to us, it is enough to rate this promise a Compromise.


Scott's 2012-13 policy and budget recommendations

Scott's 7-7-7 book to Turn Florida Around

Department of Management Services, "Strategic Health Plan Options for the State of Florida," Sept. 29, 2011

Scott interview with WFLA 100.7 FM Tallahassee, Dec. 21, 2011

"As Florida government costs are cut, some grumble," Fort Meyers News-Press, Dec. 18, 2011

"State workers' health care may be next target for cost savings," Ocala Star Banner, Nov. 13, 2011

"Scott budget has more money for schools, less money for Medicaid," Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Dec. 7, 2011

"Scott's budget boosts schools, hits hospitals," St. Petersburg Times, Dec. 8, 2011

Gov. Rick Scott's Communications Office, written responses to PolitiFact's questions about the Scott-O-Meter, Dec. 28, 2011

Email interview with Mary Leslie, Department of Management Services spokeswoman, Dec. 21, 2011