DOC and COAD: new labor-management panel ‘productive’

DOVER — Last week, Gov. John Carney received the 159-page independent review of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center he ordered former Family Court judge William Chapman, Jr. and former U.S. attorney Charles Oberly III to conduct. The review examined the conditions at the prison leading up to the Feb. 1 inmate uprising that left Lt. Steven Floyd dead, and made recommendations on avoiding future incidents.

The review gave top billing to systemic issues in the Delaware Department of Correction such as communication problems between management and staff, low morale and fatigue among correctional officers, chronic correctional officer under-staffing and a lack of focus on rehabilitating prisoners.

During a press conference on Friday, Gov. Carney mentioned some of the changes his administration has already made toward addressing the DOC’s ills. Chief among them where the appointment of Delaware lawyer Claire DeMatteis as special assistant to oversee DOC policy changes on the governor’s behalf, a 22-percent increase in starting correctional officer salaries and multi-million dollar investments in new equipment and cameras for the prisons.

“We have systemic issues within our correctional system that must be addressed, and we are committed to addressing them — we’ve already made progress, but there is more work ahead of us,” said Gov. Carney. “Obviously, if you’re going to do more, it’s going to cost more money. We’ve got to do more and we’ve got to do it better.”

John Carney

Most of the changes the administration hopes to make will involve funding, but some are communication-based. To this end, Gov. Carney called for the establishment of a new Labor-Management committee last June. The new six-person committee was designed to study ways to help recruit and retain officers and decrease the use of mandatory overtime in Delaware’s prisons. Both the DOC and the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware are each allotted three appointees to the committee.

The COAD was ready with their appointees almost immediately in early July. COAD secretary George McClure, COAD grievance specialist Sgt. David Townsend and vice president of the maintenance officers’ co-ed union Gordon Fletcher were selected to serve.

“These guys have a lot of experience and background and they’re going to be able to come up with some great solutions,” COAD president, Geoff Klopp said at the time. “The things they plan to focus on first are addressing concerns about the correctional officer career ladder, 12-hour shifts and a new shift freeze policy.”

Recently, the DOC selected their appointees. According to DOC spokeswoman, Jayme Gravell, their representatives on the committee are Bureau Chief of Prisons Steven Wesley, Bureau Chief of Administrative Services Jennifer Biddle and Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget Amy Bonner. As of Thursday, the committee has met twice and have agreed to continue meeting every two weeks privately to carry out their function. Both the DOC and COAD report that the meetings have been “productive.”

“They’ve been good, productive meeting so far, and we expect to be able to make some progress between now and Dec. 1 when we plan to present Gov. Carney with our recommendations,” said Mr. Klopp.

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