Council on Correction braces for member shakeup

DOVER — Council on Correction members mulled the implications of Gov. John Carney’s coming reappointments at their Tuesday meeting.

With the exception of the council chairman, Roger Levy, who serves “at the pleasure of the governor,” six of the seven-person council are sitting on expired terms. At least four of the terms have been expired since last December.

The council, established by state code, is designated to serve in an advisory capacity to the commissioner of correction and “shall consider matters relating to the development and progress of the correctional system.”

In April, Gov. Carney’s spokesman Jonathan Starkey noted that the council was a priority for the governor’s review.

“Gov. Carney believes that the Council on Correction can serve an important advisory role,” he said at the time. “As a general matter, the governor is reviewing all of Delaware’s boards and commissions, and making appropriate appointments. The Council on Correction is at the top of that list.”

It appears as though that review is taking place and the council may be headed for change. During the Tuesday meeting, attended by five of the seven council members, the body pledged to continue its normal functions until told otherwise.

“The instructions are that we are to proceed as normal until such time as the governor reappoints or adds new members,” said councilman C. Edwin Perez.

The governor’s office couldn’t be reached for the specifics of the coming change as of Wednesday night.

At the meeting, representatives from Link of Love, an inmate advocacy group, suggested that it’d be prudent to consider an ex-offender appointee to offer a “different perspective.” The suggestions was largely dismissed with scattered chuckles.

“We’d have to look into the legality of that,” said Richard Senato. “The governor has to do the appointing.”

Although unclear as to whether the governor will reappoint existing members or supplant them with new ones, the request for more action was made. Mr. Perez noted that the governor’s office would like to see the council implement programs and possibly reestablish an open forums meeting style used previously so DOC staff can field questions from the public.

“They want to see the creation of programming from this group on how we can help the prison system,” said Mr. Perez. “Several years ago we had a program with the former commissioner where we went out to scheduled forums in the community. Many were very well put together and we had a good group of people that came out. The commissioner spent the whole night answering questions and collecting information. They’d like to see that happen again.”

Although current council meetings are open to the public and there is a “public comments” portion, visitors must sign in at the DOC headquarters and be searched for weapons before being admitted entry — a security detail also monitors the meeting itself.

Since the Feb. 1 inmate uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, the council has been mired in low attendance and inactivity — often bemoaning insufficient direction from DOC administration and lack of information. DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps attended the council’s June meeting to field questions. Although his full cooperation with and presence at the meeting seemed to affirm the council’s value to the DOC, little was offered in the way of guidance. In response to a question about what the council’s priorities should be, Mr. Phelps said he didn’t have any projects for them to work on at the moment.

Alan Grinstead, the recently appointed DOC deputy commissioner, attended the Tuesday meeting to continue the administrative dialogue. He was cooperative and answered the majority of the council’s questions to their satisfaction. However, he was unable to provide current vital statistics “information packets” the council has been requesting for months.

“We used to have information packets that included narratives on updates and implementation of different prison programs — it kept us in the loop on a lot of things,” said Mr. Perez.
Mr. Grinstead said he’d provide that information at a subsequent meeting.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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