Corrections union chief blasts top state officials

 

Geoff Klopp, President of COAD talks to the media about concerns with the prison situation in the cafeteria at Legislative Hall in Dover on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — One day after detailing his concerns to legislators and Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps, Correctional Officers Association of Delaware President Geoff Klopp continued blasting state officials for what he said is a failure to provide more resources and support to correctional employees in a time of “crisis.”

Lt. Steven Floyd was killed in the Feb. 1 inmate uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center and while the state has taken some steps to improve security and boost morale among officers since the incident, Mr. Klopp believes far more needs to be done.

On Monday, the union sent lawmakers a detailed request for compensation reform, including higher starting wages, regular salary increases and hikes in hazard pay. Officers are also seeking additional communication equipment, more training sessions and an end to an agreement with prison-reform advocates that the union says limits officers’ ability to do their jobs.

“All we continue to get is conversation, conversation, and we are at a breaking point,” Mr. Klopp said in a news conference.

He said the requested compensation package “needs to be addressed today.”

The union has said for years that officers are underpaid and overworked. Mr. Klopp has repeatedly alleged that state officials are opting to rely on mandatory overtime rather than increase pay or hire more guards.

He said several times Thursday he thinks the state is failing to properly respond to the incident.

Jonathan Starkey, a spokesman for Gov. John Carney, defended the steps taken by the administration since Feb. 1.

“Gov. Carney announced this week a series of measures that are intended to address security at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center — including a plan to add 50 correctional officers and invest in new state-of-the-art communications and security equipment that will help officers prevent and respond to violent incidents,” he said in an email. “The independent review of the Feb. 1 incident will also commence this week. The governor will take seriously any recommendations that emerge from that review, and he is committed to taking appropriate action on those recommendations.

“In the meantime, the Department of Correction and the Office of Management and Budget are working expeditiously to review and address recruitment and retention of quality correctional officers. That review includes an examination of hiring strategies and potential adjustments to the entry salary for correctional officers through collective bargaining starting in the spring.”

Mr. Klopp met with the heads of the General Assembly’s Joint Finance Committee Thursday but came away disappointed.

“I was expecting to have a much better conversation than we had,” he said.

Asked if the co-chairs of the committee fully understood the difficulties facing correctional officers, he said he did not know.

Neither co-chair was available to comment.

In regard to questions about a strike, Mr. Klopp noted the union’s collective bargaining agreement forbids officers from striking.

“There’s not a next step, but as I told the governor, the correctional officers of this state are extremely irritable and restless and they’re beginning to lose faith in me, that I’m going to be able to get done what has to happen in order to get these facilities going in the correct direction,” he said.

Mr. Phelps, the head of the Department of Correction and a former officer himself, said Wednesday he is fully committed to helping officers and improving the conditions at the state’s prisons.

However, when asked Thursday if he believed in Mr. Phelps, Mr. Klopp said simply “no comment.”

If nothing is done, Mr. Klopp said, “we will watch the slow, cancerous fall of the Department of Correction in the state of Delaware and see more unwanted, unnecessary, preventable injuries.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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