Former inmate to chair Council on Correction

 

DOVER — At the Thursday night Council on Correction meeting, the group elected its new chair and vice chair — Darryl Chambers and Muhammad Salaam, respectively. The two were elected unanimously by the attending council members. Former vice chair, Richard Senato, was absent and councilman C. Edwin Perez arrived late.

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.”

Thursday’s meeting was the council’s first since a recent member shakeup by Gov. John Carney’s office. After noting in April that the council would be reviewed and “appropriate appointments” would be made, former chairman Roger Levy, Melissa Dill and Elder Tyrone Johnson were removed in late September. 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.

Mr. Chambers, Jennifer Powell and Mr. Salaam were appointed to replace the outgoing members.

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.

The four remaining members, who’ve also been sitting on the council with expired terms — Jane Hovington, Joseph Paesani, Mr. Perez and Mr. Senato were all reappointed.

Darryl Chambers

During the meeting the council established a subcommittee to codify the group’s bylaws. They also discussed the future goals of the council and plans to visit the prisons. It was agreed that the council should push toward establishing several community forums and focus groups to help maintain a dialog between the public and the Department of Correction.

“I really think we can be that connective tissue between the community and DOC,” said Mr. Chambers. “I want to hear the publics’ concerns — but I also want to push them to come to us with proposed solutions and ideas too. We can’t just blame one another, we need to work together to improve conditions. We should all be putting some blood and sweat into this fight together.”

Mr. Chambers believes he has a lot to offer the chairmanship with his background. The Wilmington native 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.

He feels that representation on the council should be as diverse as possible in terms of “race, gender, ideology, background and religion.” Mr. Chambers, 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.”

Alan Grinstead, the recently appointed DOC deputy commissioner, attended the Thursday meeting to represent the administration. He was cooperative and answered the majority of the council’s and public attendees’ questions to their satisfaction. He also supplied DOC annual reports and data packets for council members to give them a “baseline” of vital statistics for the state prisons. Additionally, he made the commitment to supply the council with any additional data at their request.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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