Florida National Guard considered to help staff prisons as inmate numbers expected to steadily climb

As a legislative panel prepares Friday to consider a plan to activate Florida National Guard members to help at short-staffed prisons, a recent report by state analysts shows that the number of inmates is expected to steadily climb in the coming years.

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The number of inmates plunged early in the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because court closures caused a backlog of cases. The state ended the 2020-2021 fiscal year with 80,495 inmates, down from 95,626 two years earlier, according to a report issued last month by the state Criminal Justice Estimating Conference.

But the report shows that the inmate numbers have started to steadily increase and are expected to hit 85,682 inmates at the June 30 end of the current fiscal year. The growth is expected to continue, reaching 93,335 inmates by the end of the 2027-2028 fiscal year, according to the report.

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The Joint Legislative Budget Commission on Friday is scheduled to consider a proposal to free up $31.25 million that, at least in part, would be used to cover the costs of activating National Guard members to help at prisons because of a shortage of correctional officers.

Florida has long grappled with shortages of correctional officers and recently has taken steps such as increasing pay to help hire and keep officers. The shortages have resulted in officers working large amounts of overtime and supervising numerous inmates.