Carney disappointed in prison probe pace

 

Gov. John Carney, center, talks about Delaware’s plan in Investing in the Department of Correction as from left, Rep. Larry Mitchell, Rep. Kevin Hensley, Commissioner of Corrections Perry Phelps and Rep. Gerald Hocker look on during a press conference at Legislative Hall on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Gov. John Carney said Tuesday he is disappointed criminal charges have not been filed in the Feb. 1 inmate uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, which killed one correctional officer.

The governor, speaking as a news conference, said he has not asked the Delaware State Police when the investigation will be complete because he did not think it would be “appropriate.”

Gov. Carney called the press gathering to respond to a report issued last week by a former state judge and federal prosecutor on the incident at Vaughn. The report was created at the governor’s request, and while it went into detail about issues at the prison and failings in the state’s correctional system, few of the offered conclusions were new.

Though the governor sought to provide what Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, called a “blueprint” to fix the Department of Correction’s problems — staffing shortages, low morale, lack of trust between rank and file and management, inadequate training and more — most of the recommendations laid out Tuesday had been previously announced.

Gov. Carney’s plans include buying new cameras for Vaughn at a cost of $2 million, increasing pay for correctional officers, eliminating shortages in the department and creating a temporary assistant to lead reforms within the agency.

But even as the governor touted his ideas, he admitted they may fail to solve problems that have in some cases existed for a decade or more.

“If we’re not doing very well, which is a possibility, probably a high possibility given what we are talking about, then our feet’ll be held to the fire,” Gov. Carney said.

The report, a final version of which is due in August, says a variety of issues may have contributed to the inmate revolt.

Minor mistakes such as “errors in classification calculations, failures to follow procedures and/or mistakes made by fatigued and inexperienced staff … were exacerbated by perceived injustices, grievances, overcrowded and/or poorly maintained facilities, a lack of programming and work opportunities, inappropriate staff-inmate interactions and the inconsistent application of policies and procedures by corrections staff,” it says.

Those problems come to a head Feb. 1 when inmates took several correctional officers hostage. The ensuing standoff lasted 19 hours and ended with Lt. Steven Floyd dead.

Under Gov. Carney’s proposal, a special assistant would seek to improve communication within the department and improve its inner workings.

“The goal in all of this is frankly to change the culture,” the governor said.

The Department of Correction has more than 100 vacancies, and the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware has said for years the state struggles to recruit and keep officers because of low pay.

According to the report, starting salaries for officers at Vaughn are about $32,000 in the current fiscal year, while officers who have 20 years under their belts make $41,000.

The state is working with the Correctional Officers Association to renegotiate contracts to raise salaries, and union President Geoff Klopp said the talks are “progressing.”

Gov. Carney in March proposed adding 50 officers at Vaughn and 25 in Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution. Tuesday, he said the state will strive to create a plan for filling every vacancy.

Mr. Klopp said the governor’s recommendations are a “breath of fresh air.”

“So far, the governor’s been a man of his word and I believe he will continue to be a man of his word,” he said. “What’s important now is that the General Assembly figure and do their job to raise revenue so that the governor has the ability to finally fix what the General Assembly hasn’t fixed for the last four years.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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