Council on Correction plans more aggressive schedule, departmental dialogue

DOVER — The Council on Correction heard testimony from family of inmates and correctional officers, retired officers and other concerned citizens Tuesday night at their first meeting since the inmate uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center that left Lt. Steven Floyd dead. Council members noted that the approximately two dozen residents in attendance were they most they’ve had participate in one of their meetings in several years.

The governor-appointed seven-member council, an advisory group 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.”

During the Tuesday meeting, member of the public spoke out about claims of insufficient recreation time for inmates, inhumane lock-down and “shakedown” procedures and general mistreatment of inmates in DOC prisons. Some speakers suggested installing more cameras in state prisons to protect inmates and correctional officers and the possibility of bringing in undercover agents to examine prison staff from the inside.

The council made commitments to forward their concerns to the proper DOC officials.

Retired JTVCC correctional officer Eleanor Ricchuiti gave an impassioned testimony, claiming to have been driven to retirement by departmental mismanagement.

“I wasn’t ready to retire, I retired because of management — I loved my job and I miss it,” she said.

Ms. Ricchuiti said that she was in the unique position of being a correctional officer herself while being a parent and family member of people incarcerated at JTVCC while she worked there. She claimed that while most officers working at the prison were very hardworking and diligent, there were too many who were complacent and prone to mistreat inmates.

“Everyone in JTVCC was sir to me — I don’t care who they were,” she said. “Other officers would ask me ‘Why do you call them sir? They’re only inmates.’ They’re there because they did something wrong, but these are still peoples’ dads, sons and husbands. You have to give respect if you expect to get it. Many officers learn this and are great at their jobs, but there are some that don’t belong there. They could weed them out here at the training academy.”

Council chairman Roger Levy, in discussing the future of the council, resolved to push for a broader dialogue with DOC management, and more research on how neighboring states treat similar issues. He also fielded the idea of the council attending correctional seminars and visiting other, larger, facilities and reporting findings back to administration.

“Some of the things brought to us here tonight were really disturbing,” he said. “I’d like to know, are other departments of correction in other states having these exact issues and what are they doing about it? Going forward, we need to hash out what sort of dialogue we should be having with management.”

Noticeably absent from the meeting were any high ranking DOC officials other than departmental spokesperson Jayme Gravell. Mr. Levy noted that the former DOC commissioner, Robert Coupe, regularly attend council meetings. Council member Melissa Dill expressed frustration that there wasn’t a member of the administration present to field questions.

“I think that the commissioner or deputy commissioner should be here, I am not sure what we’ll be able to do without them,” she said. “We can throw ideas around all day, but if we don’t have someone here to say they’re already doing that or why it would or wouldn’t work — it’s kind of a waste of time.”

Another council member, Joseph Paesani, noted that the group should make an effort to make briefings ordinarily given to them by the DOC public, so concerned citizens can be made aware of programs and initiatives being introduced.

“We receive a detailed report from the commissioner regarding programs and the things that they’re working on and trying to implement to better the prison environment and these things need to be made public,” he said.

At the meeting the council decided on a more aggressive schedule for the remainder of 2017.

“I think we can do more now, and we should,” said council vice chairman Richard Senato. “We’ve heard from the public, which was very important and informative, but I think we also need to hear from rank and file officers as well. As a retired officer I know that individual officers have their concerns as well.”

A planned discussion regarding the responsibility of the council and its members according to title 29 was postponed until next month’s meeting.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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