Attorney General Denn talks issues with faith-based council

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn takes a question at Tuesday afternoon’s Delaware Council of Faith-Based Partnerships meeting in the Smyrna Rest Area Conference Room. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn takes a question at Tuesday afternoon’s Delaware Council of Faith-Based Partnerships meeting in the Smyrna Rest Area Conference Room. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

SMYRNA — Attorney General Matt Denn stayed just a bit longer than the original 45-minute commitment to speak before a group of faith leaders Tuesday afternoon, but serious issues vexing the state required thorough analysis.

Approximately 25 members of the Delaware Council of Faith-Based Partnerships wanted to hear what the Department of Justice head thought of incarceration, re-entry and recidivism trends in Delaware, and the discussion was even more ranging than that.

The council, created by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell through executive order in 2012, followed up with several questions that the attorney general patiently answered as his scheduled departure for Legislative Hall in Dover arrived and passed by a few minutes.

The attorney general began by saying the United States incarceration rate is too high, and his approximately 110 days in office have included pushing for statues limiting repercussions from some crimes such as drug possession felonies, among others.

He said the state’s violent felony statute created 19 years ago had more offenses added to it since, but none removed.

Adding violent crimes against law enforcement officers to higher felony sentencing options is the proper direction, the attorney general said. Evaluation of many offenses and how they are addressed in the justice system is ongoing, he said.

Attorney General Denn is concerned that two-thirds of prison inmates currently released return to the Department of Correction within three years.

The state hasn’t committed enough resources to re-entry programs designed to improve an offenders transition back into freedom more successful and long lasting.

Early in his tenure, AG Denn said he’s seen a pattern of homicides regarding young adults who started committing violent felonies as juveniles; it’s important to not allow them to carry weapons afterward, he said, and crucial not to have them on the street through reduction of mandatory-minimum sentences.

Regarding the recent $61 million the State of Delaware General Fund was awarded through a settlement of alleged improper practices of Bank of America, Standard & Poor’s, and Citigroup, AG Denn is in favor of $25 million going to the state for operating expenses.

The AG hopes that the other $36 million could be sent to a bevy of areas designed to assist high poverty areas with staff increases in 18 challenged elementary schools, additional re-entry programs and substance abuse treatment opportunities, increased surveillance programs for urban areas, and low-income housing projects.

Also on the wish list is money reserved to neighborhood faith-based organizations committed to hosting programs that benefit their communities.

Acknowledging that legislators are facing significantly tough financial times regarding the state’s budgeting, AG Denn said he’s been for the General Assembly’s Joint Finance Committee several times making his case.

“They haven’t said no, but they haven’t said yes,” he said. “We continue to talk about it … and its getting down to the wire.”

Also, AG Denn said he’d favor all police officers wearing body cameras since, “Everyone tends to behave better when the cameras are running.”

He said that was a quick, light response, and that uniform rules for all police usage must be created, and the cost and time elements regarding cameras evaluated to estimate their full impact if added.

The Rev. Kenneth L. Foster of Grace Church in Dover said he’s found the council to be beneficial to faith-based action through official channels.

“The big value is that these faith-based participants, many for the first time, get to see what government does and what avenues of assistance are available,” he said.

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