9 Investigates: Corrections officers call lack of staffing at prisons ‘ticking time bomb'

FLORIDA — Calling the situation a ticking "time bomb" that is putting lives in danger, state corrections officers are begging the governor and legislature to head back to work to fix Florida's prisons.

Channel 9 investigative reporter Christopher Heath obtained a copy of their letter and spoke to two corrections officers, who said the situation inside the walls is worse than anyone knows.

Just south of Avalon Park, you'll find the Central Florida Reception Center.

A letter from the corrections officers' union says the prison, along with all the others across the state, are ticking time bombs due to too many inmates and too few officers.

"You are expected to look the other way and not say something,” said former corrections officer Joyce Delvillar.

Officer Delvillar worked at Tamoka Correctional Facility in Volusia County.

She and Officer Nidia Padilla met with Heath to discuss problems in the prisons.

"We have to literally keep our heads down and not say anything,” said Padilla.

The letter, which was from members of the Officers Union, was sent to Gov. Rick Scott and other state leaders, asking for an emergency legislative session to address critical conditions in the state's prisons

The letter says staffing shortfalls must be addressed to "prevent imminent harm" and it claims the safety of officers is at stake.

"How many inmates would you be supervising at any given time,” Heath asked Delvillar.

“Seventy-three inmates at the work camp. By myself,” said Delvillar.

Federal prisons operate at a 10-to-1, inmate-to-officer ratio.

Florida officers say low pay and chronic staffing shortages make that number possible only on paper, not in reality.

Last year, Florida taxpayers paid out $18 million to cover the cost of overtime for corrections officers who were forced to work extra shifts.

A recent audit of the department found low pay is driving turnover, with one in three officers leaving for a better job every year.

Gov. Scott's office says it has not yet received the letter.

Last year, lawmakers were forced to hold a series of special sessions to deal with the budget and congressional redistricting.