Council on Correction chairman removed, new members named

Darryl Chambers

DOVER — After noting in April that the Council on Correction would be reviewed and “appropriate appointments” would be made, Gov. John Carney’s office has made several membership changes to the group.

Council chairman Roger Levy, Melissa Dill and Elder Tyrone Johnson have been removed. All had been sitting on expired terms (three-year increments) except for Mr. Levy who’d been serving “at the pleasure of the governor” as a carry-over from former-Gov. Jack Markell’s administration.

Gov. Carney’s office said Friday that three new members, Darryl Chambers, Jennifer Powell and Muhammad Salaam were appointed and will be attending the council’s next public meeting scheduled for on Oct. 12 at the DOC headquarters on 245 McKee Road in Dover.

The agenda for that meeting is expected to be posted on Monday.

The four remaining members, who’ve also been sitting on the council with expired terms — Jane Hovington, Joseph Paesani, C. Edwin Perez and vice chairman Richard Senato — are expected to be reappointed.

Biographical information provided by the governer’s office states that Mr. Salaam is an Islamic minister who’s been volunteering in the state’s prisons for 25 years.

Ms. Powell is a lawyer and current criminal justice teacher at Polytech High School; Mr. Chambers is a former inmate and executive director of the Youth Empowered to Strive and Succeed Program who’s pursuing a doctorate in Criminal Justice at University of Delaware.

New chairman

Although the council must select its own new chairman with a vote, Mr. Chambers is the hoped-for candidate, according to the governor’s spokesman Jonathan Starkey.

“The governor hopes that Darryl will be elected chair of the council, but ultimately, that will be up to council members,” he added.

Mr. Chambers believes he would have a lot to offer in the position of chairman, but is ready to serve on the council in any capacity. He said the governor’s office has not laid out any specific “marching orders” for the group, but they want to spur action.

“During the interview process, I could see that they don’t want a docile council just so they can check a box that says they have one,” said Mr. Chambers. “They want to see action.”

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

Mr. Chambers, a Wilmington native, said participating on the council is something he feels passionate about and that he believes work can be done from the group to “bridge the gap” between the DOC and the community — parties he feels there is a level of “distrust” between.

“We need to be working on ways to make the prison environment safer for both officers and inmates,” he said. “Things are better when both groups fully share the responsibility of protecting the public and helping make inmates, once they are release, into productive citizens.”

Mr. Chambers said the combination of his personal experience being an inmate for 11 years (at the federal level) and the “social capital” he’s built with the DOC and “community” by sitting on a number of anti-crime and outreach initiative boards has empowered him to help foster a constructive dialogue.

Council chairman or not, he said his first order of business will be encouraging the group to spend more time in a more public setting, rather than at the DOC headquarters in Dover — where it currently holds its meetings.

“I like to have focus groups out in the community so we can hear their opinion and gauge where they are at, but we should also be going to every prison and really getting engaged with the inmates and correctional officers,” Mr. Chambers said.

“I want a community presence at all our meetings. If we don’t have communication, nothing gets done. I plan to get people talking. I want to make sure that this council is not seen as an extension of the DOC, but that it’s operating independently and we’re not taking any sides one way or the other.”

It’s for this reason, Mr. Chambers feels that the representation on the Council should be as diverse as possible in terms of “race, gender, ideology, background and religion.”

He, in addition to Mr. Salaam, identifies himself as Muslim.

“The last thing you need is everyone thinking the same,” he said. “When everyone thinks the same, nothing changes. We need diversity all across the board.”

Current vice chairman Mr. Senato reacted with surprise to hearing that a former inmate was being appointed to the council. Mr. Senato is a retired correctional officer who served most of his 28-year career at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.

“That’s an interesting appointment,” he said. “There’s not anything wrong with it. It will probably end up being a good thing.”

According to Mr. Senato, another current councilman, Mr. Paesani, is also a DOC retiree, but his work was in administration.

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