Carney proposes more correctional officers

 

Gov. John Carney, left, joins Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security Secretary Robert Coupe, center, and Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps at a press conference last month after the prison siege that left one correctional officer dead at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. (Delaware State News file/Marc Clery)

DOVER — In the wake of a prison uprising that left one correctional officer dead, Gov. John Carney announced Monday his budget recommendations will include funding for 75 more officers and new security equipment.

An inmate rebellion at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center on Feb. 1 resulted in the death of Lt. Steven Floyd in what has been ruled a homicide.

Delaware State Police is conducting a criminal investigation, with a further review from two former state judges to begin this week.

In advance of his budget reveal March 23, the governor announced the state will spend about $341,000 on new security and communications equipment in prisons and will increase security presence at Vaughn.

Gov. Carney will also push for funding to hire 50 new officers at Vaughn and 25 at the Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution and add other equipment to help keep prisons safer.

The cost of the new officers and equipment to be included in the governor’s budget proposal is $3.5 million.

The state plans to create an email address — AskDOC@state.de.us — where family members of inmates can reach out to the Department of Correction with questions or concerns. They can also call 857-5470.

Although the governor had previously said a review by former judges Henry duPont Ridgely and William L. Chapman Jr. would begin once the police investigation concluded, his office said Monday it will start this week because of “the duration of the criminal investigation and his sense of urgency surrounding this issue.”

“Once Justice Ridgely and Judge Chapman complete their review, I will take their recommendations seriously and take appropriate action to address safety and security risks at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center,” the governor, a Democrat, said in a statement.

“In the meantime, however, it’s our responsibility to do whatever is in our power to make the environment at Vaughn safer for correctional officers and inmates. Prisons are inherently dangerous places. But everyone inside that prison, and their loved ones, deserves to know that their government takes their safety seriously, and that we’re doing what we can right now to right the ship at Vaughn.”

Since Feb. 1, the Department of Correction has partnered with churches, police agencies and nonprofits to provide counseling and other services to its staff. It is also promoting mental health care offered by the state and community groups.

The Department of Correction will also work with the Office of Management and Budget to purchase new communication equipment and protective gear for correctional officers and to improve recruitment and retention efforts. The two agencies will also consider raising starting salaries for officers.

The Correctional Officers Association of Delaware has said for years its members are underpaid.

Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, proposed last month the state hire 180 new officers and raise salaries. Starting pay for correctional officers in Delaware is $32,059, with a maximum salary of $43,147. Officers also get hazard pay of $3,120.

The average wage for correctional officers nationwide is $45,320, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Pleased that Gov. Carney made the proposal, Sen. Lawson has a few reservations.

“It’s a great start,” he said. “It’s still pretty vague as to what it’s going to do or what the intentions are. It certainly recognizes the need to go forward with this and the need to get it right and I greatly appreciate that.”

While Sen. Lawson agrees more staff is needed, he doesn’t feel that the 75 additional staff members Gov. Carney hopes to add will go far enough toward reducing overtime.

“Reducing the amount of overtime the correctional officers are forced to do is really important for their safety and the safety of the inmates,” said Sen. Lawson.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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