Skip navigation.
Home | About Us | Contact Us
Rick Scott, Governor
Florida Department of Corrections, Secretary Michael D. Crews

Florida Department of Corrections
Timothy H. Cannon, Interim Secretary

Inmate Work and Unstructured Time

Some of the most surprising results came from questions about inmate work and unstructured time. Some of these activities, which are often singled out in "tough on crime" rhetoric, are not as distasteful to the public, press or DC staff as some believe.

Now I'm going to ask you some questions about what typical inmates might do and have access to while in STATE prison.

Do you think the typical inmate is required to work while in prison?
Do Inmates Work? General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Yes45956.2%17351.0%354 80.6%
No35743.8%16649.0%85 19.4%
Total Cases 816 100.0% 339 100.0% 439* 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 186/27/260
* Correctional officer/security staff was not asked this question.

The majority of inmates are not paid for work they perform. Do you approve or disapprove of them working while in prison?
Should Inmates Work? General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Approve85795.9%34396.3%680 98.4%
Disapprove364.1%133.7%11 1.6%
Total Cases 893 100.0% 356 100.0% 691 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 109/10/8

More than half of the respondents of both surveys (56.2%/51.0%) and even more staff (80.6%), excluding security staff, know that inmates must work in prison. When told that most inmates are not paid for the work they perform, most 95.9%/96.3%/98.4% still approve of inmates working in prison. (Only inmates on work release and those who work for Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises (PRIDE) are paid wages. Their employers, not the state, pay those on work release.)

Eighty-three percent of the inmates in prison in DC institutions on the last day of the fiscal year (June 30, 1997) worked, participated in programs such as vocational or academic classes, or a combination of work and programs. The remaining 17 percent were either physically unable to work, involved in the reception and orientation process or were in some type of confinement for management purposes, including death row. The following highlights some of the types of work Florida prison inmates participated in during FY 96-97 (from July 1, 1996 to June 30, 1997), and how much it saved Florida taxpayers.

New Construction, Renovation and Repair

Inmates spent more than 3.5 million hours performing work in new construction, correction of fire safety deficiencies, and repairs and renovations during FY 96-97. Major construction projects were conducted at 25 major institutions and almost every other institution had some construction occurring. The value of this labor is estimated at $30.9 million based on a benefited hourly rate of $8.71*.

Community Work Squad Program

There are two types of Community Work Squads: those that work under an agreement with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and those that work under a local agreement between correctional institutions and agencies such as the Division of Forestry, cities, counties, municipalities and non-profit corporations. The latter are called Public Works/Interagency Community Service Work Squads.

In FY 96-97, the DOT inmate work squads, working under the supervision of staff from both the DC and DOT performed more than 1.9 million hours of work valued at more than $12.9 million. These squads performed all types of roadway and right-of-way work to help maintain the state's highway system. They also assisted the DOT following natural disasters such as hurricanes and severe storms that created extensive damage to several areas in the state.

The Public Works/Interagency Community Service Work Squads are authorized by s. 946.40, F.S. During FY 96-97, these inmate work squads performed more than 3.5 million hours of free labor at a value of $29.9 million dollars (labor is valued at $8.31 per hour*). The types of work performed by these squads includes roadway and right-of-way work for cities and counties, grounds and building maintenance, mowing, litter removal, painting, construction projects, structure repair, office moving and cleaning up our state forests. These squads also assisted both state and local governments in cleaning up after natural disasters.

The total value added/cost savings generated by the Community Work Squad Program for FY 96-97 was $42.8 million. Total program costs were $19.3 million, resulting in a net value added/cost savings to Florida taxpayers in the amount of $23.5 million.

*The base hourly value is determined from the Wage Summary Report for Employment Services Job Openings for FY 96-97, prepared by the Department of Labor and Employment Security, with benefits for social security, retirement, health and basic life insurance added.

Do you think the Florida State Prison System uses Chain Gangs?
Do Chain Gangs Exist? General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Yes35850.1%16851.5%211 49.2%
No35649.9%15848.5%218 50.8%
Total Cases 714 100.0% 326 100.0% 429* 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 288/40/270
* Correctional officer/security staff was not asked this question.

Do you approve or disapprove of the use of Chain Gangs?
Should Chain Gangs Exist? General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Approve60573.3%24874.7%520 79.5%
Disapprove22126.7%8425.3%134 20.5%
Total Cases 826 100.0% 332 100.0% 654 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 176/34/45

Survey respondents are evenly split (50.1%/51.5%/49.2%) with regard to knowing whether or not the DC employs the use of chain gangs. The majority (73.3%/74.7%/79.5%) of respondents from all three surveys indicate approval. (It should be noted that all survey respondents were not made aware of the level of dangerousness or security risks presented by the use of chain gangs and the high custody and supervision level required of inmates assigned to these work squads.)

The department utilizes restricted labor squads (chain gangs) at seven correctional institutions: Apalachee Correctional Institution (CI) - East Unit, Gulf CI, North Florida Reception Center - West Unit, Cross City CI, Marion CI, South Florida Reception Center - Main Unit, and Avon Park C.I. On January 30, 1998, a total of 179 close custody inmates were assigned to these work squads. These squads work outside the secure perimeter of the institution on institutional property under the armed supervision of Correctional Officers. The inmates are shackled individually at the ankles and are not connected to each other in any manner for reasons of security and safety.

Every day the DC requires 3,000 inmates, who do not require the same level of supervision as inmates assigned to chain gangs, to work in the department's Community Work Squad Program for municipalities, cities, counties, state agencies (such as the Department of Transportation and Division of Forestry), and non-profit organizations. During fiscal year 1996-97 these work squads saved Florida taxpayers in excess of $23.5 million. (See previous survey question for more details.)

The start-up cost for one chain gang is $152,717, with recurring costs in excess of $100,000 per year. The squad requires three staff with a maximum staff-to-inmate ratio of one to up to 10 inmates depending on the type and location of the work. When working inmates inside the secure perimeter of an institution, the DC can reduce staff involved and increase the number of inmates supervised. In this latter instance, the staff-to-inmate ratio is one to up to 25 inmates, again dependent on the type and location of the work. Also, when working in this situation, the start-up and recurring costs are less than $40,000 per year.

Do you think they have access to TV?
Inmate Access to TV? General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Yes81393.8%33395.1%427 94.7%
No546.2%174.9%24 5.3%
Total Cases 867 100.0% 350 100.0% 451* 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 135/16/248
* Correctional officer/security staff was not asked this question.

Do you approve or disapprove of them having access to TV?
Should Inmates Have TV? General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Approve42849.4%23569.5%534 80.3%
Disapprove43950.6%10330.5%131 19.7%
Total Cases 867 100.0% 338 100.0% 665 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 135/28/34

The vast majority of all respondents know that inmates have access to television. But significant differences can be found in attitudes toward inmates and television. The general public are almost evenly divided in their approval and disapproval of television access by inmates (49.4% to 50.6%). The news media (69.5%) and DC staff (80.3%) are united in their approval of television for inmates, which can be helpful in keeping inmates occupied when staff is shorthanded. Of the staff members who approve of television for inmates, more security staff (84.5%) approved than non-security staff (77.1%).

Most prisons have televisions available for viewing when they are not working or attending educational programs. The televisions are located in large dormitory dayrooms for group viewing. Most of the DC's televisions were paid for by proceeds from sales to inmates from the inmate canteens. However, state law now prohibits the purchase of televisions for recreational purposes.

Do you think they have access to weights while in prison? (i.e., for weight training/lifting weights)
Inmate Access to Weights? General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Yes77293.2%31791.6%397 88.2%
No576.8%298.4%53 11.8%
Total Cases 829 100.0% 346 100.0% 450* 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 173/20/249
* Correctional officer/security staff was not asked this question.

Do you approve or disapprove of them having access to weights?
Should They Have Weights? General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Approve41748.8%22464.7%332 50.6%
Disapprove43751.2%12235.3%324 49.4%
Total Cases 854 100.0% 346 100.0% 656 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 148/20/43

The majority of respondents (93.2%/91.6%/88.2%) are correct in believing that inmates have access to weightlifting equipment. The general public is almost evenly divided in their attitude toward inmates having access to weightlifting equipment, but again, the news media has a much more favorable view (64.7%). It is interesting to note that DC staff, including security staff, are evenly divided about whether inmates should have access to weights. In fact, the 286 security staff responses mirrored the rest of the staff responses, with exactly 143 (50%) approving and exactly 143 (50%) disapproving.

Once an inmate completes his required work or school assignments, and if the inmate has remained free of disciplinary problems, he or she is allowed time for wellness activities. If an inmate has remained free of disciplinary problems for 120 days, these activities may include weightlifting. Exercise and activity programs are a component of the DC's security program because inmates with unstructured time are a threat to the safety and security of an institution.

Do you think the typical inmate is housed in an air-conditioned prison?
Inmates Have Air Conditioning? General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Yes67787.7%22770.3%117 26.5%
No9512.3%9629.7%325 73.5%
Total Cases 772 100.0% 323 100.0% 442* 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 230/43/257
* Correctional officer/security staff was not asked this question.

Do you approve or disapprove of them having air conditioning?
Should Inmates Have Air Conditioning? General Public News Media DC Staff
Number Percent Number Percent Number Percent
Approve57166.9%24974.6%226 35.2%
Disapprove28333.1%8525.4%416 64.8%
Total Cases 854 100.0% 334 100.0% 642 100.0%
Cases Not Applicable = 148/32/57

The majority of the general public (87.7%) and to a lesser degree, the press (70.3%) believes the typical inmate is housed in an air-conditioned prison. This is incorrect. Most DC staff (73.5%) are aware that inmates do not have air-conditioned facilities. 66.9% of general public respondents and a surprising 74.6% of news media respondents approve of air-conditioning for inmates. Most staff (64.8%) disapprove of air-conditioning for inmates, even though some of these staff members could also be benefiting from it while at work.

One of the biggest misconceptions about prisons is that inmates are housed in air-conditioned cells or dormitories. In fact, only seven of the DC's 55 major institutions have air-conditioning, excluding five contract facilities. Contract facilities are privately owned and therefore the DC does not control their construction or management. Of the seven DC facilities with air-conditioning, only portions of them are air-conditioned, not the entire facility. These prisons were built in the 1970s or were built by the former Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) for juvenile justice programs. These facilities are Brevard Correctional Institution (CI), Broward CI, Dade CI, Hillsborough CI, Lancaster CI, Union CI, and Corrections Mental Health Institution (CMHI). Union CI was built in 1913 and has since been renovated with air-conditioning in some areas, such as its hospital. CMHI houses mentally ill inmates.