Study: Delaware among worst states for recently released prison inmates

DOVER — Delaware is among the worst states for recently released inmates, according to a recent study by the PrisonEd Foundation — a Utah-based inmate advocacy group.

In the study, released in late July, Delaware was noted as second only to Alaska in terms of being the least “friendly” to former inmates.
However, five states (Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon and Texas) weren’t considered in the ranking due to their insufficient data reporting.

The states were ranked based on four primary data points; the number of reentry programs, number of current and ex-inmates, background check restrictions and re-incarceration percentages.

The study claims that Delaware has a 3-year recidivism rate of 64.90 percent, 8 percent of the state’s population being either a current or former inmate and a total of five reentry programs.

This is a far cry from California, which took the top spot with a 3-year recidivism rate of 44.60 percent, an 8.5 percent of the population either currently or formerly incarcerated and 13 different reentry programs.

The number of current and ex-inmates tabulated represents the percentage based on a report published in 2017 that examined 60 years of demographic data.

States that offered a higher percentage of support communities for ex-inmates received a higher score. Re-incarceration rates were pulled from a Bureau of Justice Statistics study on inmates released in 2013.
States with a lower re-incarceration percentage received a higher score.
Reentry programs counted include, but are not limited to, halfway houses, job help and addiction recovery programs.

To review the full study, visit

Agencies, advocacies say

The Delaware Department of Correction challenged the PrisonEd Foundation’s data, methodologies and conclusion.
Joanna Champney, the agency’s chief of planning, research and reentry, said recidivism rates can be misleading markers because of how their calculated.

“Ranking states partially by recidivism rates is extremely problematic,” she said. “There is no national definition of recidivism. Some states utilize rearrest, some utilize return to prison and some utilize return to prison as a sentenced inmate.

“The Delaware Statistical Analysis Center actually did a great job illustrating why it’s not advisable to compare states’ recidivism rates in their 2018 report.

“They point out that if you were to use Virginia’s definition of recidivism, Delaware’s rate would be 18.6 percent. Using Vermont’s, we would be at 50.4 percent. Using Maryland’s, we’d be at 34.9 percent. Those nuances are usually ignored in many of these reports attempting to compare apples to oranges.”

The agency’s recidivism can be found at

Ms. Champney also disputed the study’s count of the state’s reentry programs.

“Fortunately, Delaware has many more than just five prisoner reentry programs!” she said. “DOC partners with many different organizations, some of which we fund, some of which we cooperate with via MOUs (memorandum of understanding).

“Our service providers range from substance use treatment providers to mental health providers to case management organizations to housing providers. They are a vital extension of part of our mission; to promote rehabilitation. DOC is doing some exciting work to strengthen our relationships with these providers.

“We are preparing to host our second reentry conference for community providers where best practices and collaborations are discussed. Our new director of reentry is also leading a case management collaboration committee that is mapping out the various case management resources available to people leaving prison.”

Ms. Champney feels that some of the data in the study is dated as well — not reflecting recent changes to agency protocols.

“We’ve implemented a number of new programs inside the prisons and in the community corrections centers that prepare people for release,” she said. “Job training and decision-making (cognitive restructuring) skills are two areas of focus. Two recent Federal grants are allowing us to implement cognitive behavioral therapy programming in our community corrections centers and at a probation office, and a state budget allocation allowed us to hire a contractor to run cognitive behavioral therapy groups in the maximum security prisons.

“Job training options are also being expanded (for example, we have a partnership with Del Tech that allows us to send Plummer Center residents to the campus for courses), and we’ll be hiring a reentry programming coordinator soon who will be helping us do even more. We have been exploring different options with the Department of Labor’s apprenticeship division to look at NCCER (National Center for Construction Education and Research) certification for welding as well as other career pathway options.”

Recent changes in the state’s reentry initiative should also be considered, Ms. Champney says.

“We’ve revamped and rebranded what used to be the I-ADAPT reentry initiative,” she said. “We have probation officers in each county who function as DCRC (Delaware Correctional Reentry Commission) In-Reach Coordinators. These individuals work with the prisons to identify eligible inmates who are coming up on their release date, then work with the correctional counselors and the inmate to create a reentry plan.

“Pre-release workshops are a part of this initiative, where job search, housing, and other topics are covered. We also have financial subsidies available through a federal grant for probationers who are complying with the terms of their probation but who need help with stabilization. The probation officer can apply for up to 1 month’s rent on the probationer’s behalf.”

Newly-minted DOC commissioner Claire DeMatteis says recenlty instituted assessments will help the department focus on streamlining inmate reentry as well.

“We’re really getting smarter about coordinating reentry — the reforms we’re implementing are the key to the future of the department,” she said. “We’ve never done this before, but in the past year, every level five offender has gotten an educational assessment to understand what level of education they have and if they don’t have their high school diploma they’re advised on how to get it while they’re incarcerated. They’re also given a vocational skills assessment, to see what sort of job skills them have.

With this type of information, we can ensure that our reentry efforts are starting the moment they walk into the correctional facility rather than just the few weeks or months prior to their release.”

Among local inmate advocacies, the enthusiasm is weaker.
Lori Alberts, the chairman of Link of Love, said while she appreciates Gov. John Carney and Ms. DeMatteis’s push toward reentry services, she thinks the prison “environment” remains a toxic place. Link of Love is a support group for inmates’ families.

“The environment inside must change from punishment and warehousing to not just education/vocation but teaching of life skills and behavior too,” said Ms. Alberts. “You can no more cure a criminal in prison then you can a drunk in a tavern. The environment inside has to change.”

Ken Abraham, the founder of Citizens for Criminal Justice, says the deck remains stacked against inmates returning to the public.
“I counsel those in reentry every day, and the most glaring problems are: a lack of effective and affordable treatment programs for addicts, the more than 200 obstacles to reentry— many of which are totally unnecessary — the lack of public understanding that when we help those in reentry we help our communities and the lack of will in the legislature to make easily enacted, sweeping changes in the law needed to ease this problem. So many obstacles could easily be removed. Like, why can’t an they get a barber’s or beautician’s license because of a record? There should be no barrier at all.

As it currently is, one must apply, and then can easily be denied solely because of one’s record.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Delaware believes the study reflects Delaware’s “fundamentally broken” criminal justice system.

“Ending the cycle of mass incarceration will require the state to invest in and expand reentry programs, overhaul unnecessarily harsh probation policies and practices that drive prison readmissions and break down barriers to good jobs and affordable housing,” said the ACLU’s Smart Justice Campaign Manager Erica Marshall.

“Our criminal justice system has become a revolving door. And the burdens of the broken system fall particularly harshly on people of color and the poor. If we are serious about breaking the cycle, we must scale up our investment in ensuring the success of returning citizens. The campaign for Smart Justice is prioritizing probation reform and will continue to fight for individuals impacted by the system by advocating for legislative and executive action this year and into the 2020 legislative session.”

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