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Staffing issues may be leading to overcrowding in SWFL prisons

Posted at 12:32 AM, Oct 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-19 00:40:19-04

CHARLOTTE COUNTY — We’ve learned prisons in Southwest Florida are becoming overcrowded due to low staffing levels.

We spoke with a woman who says her boyfriend was sleeping on the floor at the Charlotte Correctional Institution, along with hundreds of other inmates.

The Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) told us, because of low staffing levels, it made the decision to temporarily close the Fort Myers Work Camp in Lee County. When that happened, all of the inmates were transferred to the Charlotte Correctional Institution.

Tara Clark has a boyfriend who was transferred there, and she tells us there are now simply more inmates than beds. Clark said her boyfriend Joshua Cole was at the Fort Myers Work Camp because he’s a non-violent offender.

"Josh has never been to prison. He’s not that type of person, he’s non-violent," said Clark.

But now Clark says Cole is in prison at the Charlotte Correctional Institution, so we went right to the State to ask why.

The response from the FDC was in part “A large number of FDC’s major institutions are at or below critical staffing levels. FDC will be combining some work camps into their main institutions to consolidate staff.”

Clark says that consolidation is leading to many inmates getting forced into unacceptable conditions.

"They had them sleeping on the floor, all 120 inmates in their preoccupied two-man cell," said Clark.

That includes her boyfriend Cole, who she said described his experience to her when she came to visit.

"The person sleeping on the top bunk is coming down and basically almost hitting his head. The toilet is right there, so I can only imagine what his living space is like," said Clark.

The FDC said it is actively working to get more staff. It’s offering $1,000 signing bonuses to get people hired at several facilities, including the Charlotte Correctional Institution. It also increased pay for non-certified correctional officers to $33,500, and decreased shifts from 12 hours to 8.5 hours.

But while the FDC works to address the problems, Clark says inmates like her boyfriend should be allowed to leave.

"If administration cannot keep their staff, then they need to start looking at those ones that are non-violent and letting them go home, because that’s just not right how they’re living," said Clark.

After our interview, we talked with Clark again and she said her boyfriend did finally get assigned to a bed, but she also said many other inmates have not.

She said the inmates were moved from the Fort Myers Work Camp back on September 29th, so that means some may have now gone almost three weeks sleeping on the floor.

We followed up our questions to the FDC with a request for us to bring a camera into the Charlotte Correctional Institution to get a look at the conditions first-hand.

We're still waiting for a response to that request.