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Secretary of Corrections: Prison Bed Capacity Formula “Does Not Reflect Reality”

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (FNN) – Florida Secretary of Corrections Mark Inch elaborated on the complexity of prison bed capacity in the state, insisting that the problem is not a linear one that can be solved by “simple math,” and that linear equation “just does not reflect reality and leads to bad decisions.”

“If our system were like a quadratic equation, this would be a very short meeting, because that would give you an answer to that one solution,” Inch said during a hearing with the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice of the Florida senate.

Instead, he explained, “it is a complex, open, adaptive system like a web.”

“So here’s the first question [the committee] has asked me: What is the Florida Department of Correction’s bed capacity? The answer I’ve gotten from every lawyer I’ve ever asked is, ‘It depends’,” he said.

“When we talk bed capacity, there are four officials definitions: design capacity, total capacity, maximum capacity, and lawful capacity. We routinely provide your professional staff these numbers. But you’ll hear others talk about emergency capacity, adjustive capacity, and ‘I ain’t got no capacity at all’,” he added.

Inch explained that the base factor would be design capacity, defined as the number of inmates that a given prison was designed to hold. However, Inch said that it’s not a “particularly helpful” factor in what is complex decision-making, “because a bed is not a bed.”

After showing a picture of an open prison dorm with up to ninety beds, he reminded the committee that “there’s a lot of specialization of dorms.” “There are inmates that spend the rest of their lives with us, and as they reach the end of that life they require specialized beds with all the attending, significant resources that go with that. So providing the appropriate bedding for inmates is not only both a moral and frankly written standard within the American correctional system but in some cases, it’s actually in law, as in the Americans With Disabilities Act.”

There would also be the factor of the different generations the facilities were built, which implies the different construction standards. Inch explained that if there were eighty beds in a particular dorm, it would be important but not quite relevant.

“The real question is how many beds of what type with what staff, with what treatment and education programs, that addresses the demographics and characteristics of the inmates that we are contemplating placing there. Bed types are not interchangeable. Inmates do sleep in beds, but an inmate is not an inmate,” he said. “(Last night inmate’s beds) was chosen for them based on these and about 40 other considerations. We assist inmates with mental health, medical needs, numerous security concerns, for example, their game participation, are they predatory? Specialty populations such as youthful offenders, pregnant inmates, or inmates with severe behavioral mental health issues cannot be housed at most of our prisons. So trying to get the actual figure of capacity by just counting beds, counting inmates, and working some math formulas is nearly impossible.”

The solution is not to close prisons that are on emergency staff vacancy, where the DoC has closed dorms to lighten the weight on the guards on duty. On those facilities, which according to Inch are thirty out of the 50 in the state, vacancy is around 40%, which was lowered to 17% when they closed the dorms in at least one of them.

“The real question is, will our newly structured correctional academies graduate enough certified correctional officers fast enough for us to open dorms to accommodate a significant number of inmates that are coming?” said Inch.

The Secretary estimated that, as the courts return to normal rhythms in the late stages of the pandemic, there could be up to 30,000 new inmates coming in, and there could be a shortage of personnel to attend them.

“In the last 20 years, Florida has cut 692 full-time equivalent employees from our educational programs. Though some capability was outsourced and we have started to reverse this pattern in the last two years, consider the FDC has a statutory requirement to deliver 150 hours of literacy and education for any inmate with a reading level of less than sixth grade. And that’s 32% of them, 9,000 of them. To do that I need 132 more teachers.”

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