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Study reveals states with the most understaffed prisons

The study analyzed data on the number of COs and the number of prisoners in each state to determine the states with the least staffed prisons

By Jennifer Torres

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Sunshine State holds the third largest prison population in the country, with around 84,678 inmates housed within Florida’s Department of Corrections.

Despite this, only 18,890 correctional officers are tasked with overseeing these inmates, resulting in a ratio of one guard for every 4.48 prisoners.

To find the states with the most understaffed prisons, a new study from H&P Law examined 2023 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and 2022 data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics on the number of correctional officers and the number of prisoners in each state, respectively, to determine the states with the least staffed prisons.

The data reveals that Florida ranks fifth in the nation in terms of its guard to prisoner ratio, with nearly four and a half times more prisoners than guards.

The dangers of inadequate staffing include increased rates of violence, self-harm and suicide — and exacerbated mental health issues, according to Penal Reform International.

The research reveals that Oklahoma has the most understaffed prison system in the country, with 5.87 prisoners per correctional officer. Alabama ranks second with 5.46 prisoners per correctional officer, while Idaho comes in at third place with a ratio of 5.06 prisoners for each guard, and Georgia is fourth on the list with 4.82 prisoners per guard.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Massachusetts has the lowest number of prisoners per correctional officer. With 5,950 correctional officers overseeing 6,001 inmates, the state boasts a ratio of just 1.01 prisoners per officer.

According to the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, the lack of adequate staffing in Florida led to the closure or consolidation of several facilities throughout 2021 and early 2022, including 13 work camps and the Taylor Correctional Institution Annex.

Further, in 2022, the number of people working for state prisons hit its lowest mark in more than two decades.

The situation across the state became so untenable, members of Florida’s National Guard had to augment staffing at several Florida correctional facilities, including Calhoun Correctional Institution, Franklin Correctional Institution, Hamilton Correctional Institution, Jackson Correctional Institution, Mayo Correctional Institution, Northwest Florida Reception Center, Santa Rosa Correctional Institution and Union Correctional Institution.

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