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Health Care Dominates Prison Priorities

Prisoners crowding around a table
Florida Department of Corrections
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida Department of Corrections officials on Wednesday asked Senate criminal justice budget writers for $206 million to fund the agency’s priorities, which are heavily focused on providing inmates with health care as a result of litigation. 

Between the rising costs of medication and court orders regarding treatment of inmates with Hepatitis C and mental illness, 86 percent of the budget priorities have to do with providing health care to prisoners.

The priority funding is part of the corrections department’s $2.4 billion annual budget request. The focus on health care frustrated Senate Appropriation Subcommittee on Criminal Justice Chairman Jeff Brandes.

The St. Petersburg Republican noted that Florida’s prison wardens’ top concern, expressed recently to the committee, was not even mentioned in the priority list.

"The number one issue they face is with staffing — they are desperate to retain staff, desperate to attract new staff — and as you can see there is no staffing dollar amount here,” Brandes said. “I think this shows the enormity of the challenge when the priorities of the department are to first fund constitutionally required health care and then, second, fund court-orders for Hep C, for ADA compliance and for mental illness."

Secretary of Corrections Mark Inch on Tuesday testified in favor of a House proposal that would allow 18-year-olds to work as correctional guards, who now must be at least 19, to address recruiting and retainment of prison staff.

Another issue the department is dealing with is damages caused to correctional facilities by Hurricane Michael. Mark Tallent, the budget director for the corrections agency, said the damages totaled more than $65 million, most of which will be reimbursed by the federal government.