New DOC panel, special assistant to focus on reform

DOVER — Over the past month, Gov. John Carney has announced several measures in his plan to reform the Department of Correction in the wake of the Feb. 1 inmate uprising that left Lt. Steven Floyd dead. Gov. Carney received the 54-page initial independent report developed by former Judge William Chapman and former U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly III he called for earlier in the month, and has since taken action on several of its suggestions.

On June 20 he announced an increase starting salaries for correctional officers to $40,000 in Fiscal Year 2018, and to $43,000 in FY 2019 — a 22 percent increase over current salary levels. As part of that reform, a new Labor-Management committee to study ways to help recruit and retain officers was established. On Wednesday, he appointed Claire DeMatteis, former senior counsel to U.S. Senator Joe Biden, to act as a special assistant to the Department of Correction.

The governor’s office notes that he’s also invested $2 million in new cameras, authorized 50 additional correctional officer positions at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, invested $1.3 million in new equipment and training for correctional officers, directed the Delaware State Police and the Department of Correction to jointly conduct an after-action review of the Feb. 1 incident and directed the to-be-created Department of Human Resources to implement a comprehensive staffing plan that eliminates the shortage of correctional officers.

Labor-Management committee

The new six-person committee will be designed to study ways to help recruit and retain officers, and decrease the use of mandatory overtime in Delaware’s prisons. According to the governor’s office, both the DOC and Correctional Officer’s Association of Delaware will each have three appointees to the committee. The DOC has yet to comment on who they’re considering for their appointees, but Geoff Klopp, president of the COAD, knows who his organization is going to choose and will likely announce them soon.

“Our appointees will be coming from the COAD’s executive board,” he said.

Specifically, Gov. Carney wants the committee to advice him in several key areas:

•The establishment of a 12-hour shift

•The establishment of physical fitness testing

•The establishment of a career ladder

•The establishment of a freeze policy (when an employee is held on overtime after their shift because relief has not arrived)

Mr. Klopp agrees with the priorities, and says his appointees will likely focus first on employee retention.

“This is a two headed monster — recruitment and retention,” he said. “We’ve addressed part of the recruitment end with the starting salary increase, but now we have to do something to retain people. As of July 1, a brand new correctional officer will be making $40,000 per year. I just clicked off 29 years myself but I’m going to make $48,000 this year — so there’s a problem there. Working on a better freeze policy is also really important.”

Special assistant

The governor assigned Ms. DeMatteis to help reform management practices and training, cultural turnaround and implementation of Gov. Carney’s plan following the independent review into the causes of the inmate uprising.

She will work alongside Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps, and report to Gov. Carney. Ms. DeMatteis, a Delaware attorney, also will issue publicly-available reports — at six months and one year after her appointment — that detail the state’s progress on DOC reform, noted the governor’s office. “We’re serious about getting this right,” said Gov. Carney in a statement. “Claire is tough, she is independent-minded, and she has the judgment and credibility necessary to work alongside Commissioner Phelps and help us make real change. Her experience inside and outside of government will serve our state well. She is a skilled lawyer who knows how to execute on a plan, and hold people accountable. I’m confident that Claire is the right person for the job.”

During her decade working as senior counsel for then-Sen. Biden from 1994-2004, Ms. DeMatteis served as a member of a senior team on issues involving law enforcement, foreign policy and constitutional matters. She helped guide campaign strategy, managed constituent communications and drafted legislation. Most recently, she served in a senior role at the Delaware Department of Labor.

“We owe it to the correctional officers, inmates and citizens of Delaware to get this right and resolve past deficiencies,” said Ms. DeMatteis in a statement. “We have a clear road map and mandate to make the needed changes.”

She will begin working in July.

“I look forward to working closely with Claire to directly confront many of the issues facing our correctional system,” said Mr. Phelps. “Her experience in government, and in the private sector, will help us put management practices into place that will make a real difference over the long-term.”

Mr. Phelps also announced on Thursday that he’d selected Jim Elder — the director of Clinical Services for Re-entry Programming at the Wilmington HOPE Commission — to server as the new to Bureau Chief of Community Corrections. The position is responsible for leading the DOC’s efforts to help offenders successfully re-enter their communities, and reduce Delaware’s rate of recidivism.

As the new bureau chief, Mr. Elder also will oversee mental health and substance abuse treatment programs for individuals under community supervision and in Level 4 correctional facilities.

“We have a responsibility to rehabilitate and treat the offenders who enter our custody,” said Commissioner Phelps. “I trust Jim’s experience and education will improve our current programs while also reducing recidivism in the long term. I look forward to working with him to return the men and women in our custody to the community better prepared to find success.”

Mr. Elder will begin work July 3.

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