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Health Costs Hamper Criminal Justice Budget

barbed wire prison fence
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Senate criminal-justice budget writers rolled out a spending plan Wednesday that reflects a funding squeeze caused by the rising costs of health care at state prisons. 

Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Chairman Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said he would have set aside $100 million for salary increases at the Florida Department of Corrections if the resources were available.

Low salaries and worker shortages are a top concern in the prison system. But due to legally mandated health-care costs at prisons, including $86 million for contracted health services and $34 million for Hepatitis C treatment, Brandes said the recommendations are limited to funding “core functions” of the department.

“Unfortunately, I think the story of this budget is that health care is eating the Department of Corrections budget,” Brandes said.

The Senate is recommending $2.7 billion in funding for state prisons. The committee is proposing $5.4 billion in funding for the justice-system budget, which also funds agencies such as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the state courts system.