LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Let correctional officers regain control of prisons

I am retired from the Delaware Department of Correction after 25 years of service to this state. I am a simple man, I am not politically motivated, I was not anybody’s boy, I didn’t kiss butt to meet any of my personal goals. I believed that you should earn your promotions and you should not take a promotion that you have not earned. I wasn’t popular at times because I speak the truth and some people don’t like to hear the truth.

I have worked most of the positions that officers are assigned, as well as being a sergeant and supervisor. I was an institutional and building level disciplinary hearing officer and grievance officer. I have worked at four institutions in this state, three as watch commander, two as a lieutenant, three as building sergeant and one as the records supervisor. I have been involved in a lot of different operations throughout the department.

The point that I am trying to making is that I have never been personally attacked in all my dealings with inmates. This includes irate and mentally challenged offenders. I was told early in my career by an inmate doing life, “I like you — you always treat everybody fair — but if something kicks off, remember that I am an inmate and may have to do things because I’m an inmate.” I have always remembered that fact and kept it in the back of my mind as I entered the institutions every day.

Although I did not know Lt. Floyd, I’ve been told that he was an upstanding man who was a professional and had the admiration and respect of both staff and offenders. The inmates acted on their plan and, as inmates, had to be inmates. I am in no way saying that he was at fault or had done anything wrong. In fact, I hope that if I had been in that situation, I would have been as brave as he was. This does not excuse, by any means, the acts of any of the inmates involved, and they should all be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

I have seen a lot of changes over the years in the way the institutions operate on a daily basis. I realize that changes are part of corrections. Some of those changes were long overdue, but some were just stupid. Over the years, the department has given the inmates control over our prisons. The inmates know how to manipulate the system, programs and mental health, taking full advantage of the situation. If they know what to say, they can get the result they want.

Tired of the building officers making you abide by the rules? Tell Mental Health. They will coddle the inmate and make the mean officer leave them alone. Don’t like the food? File a grievance or call the papers or ACLU; they will make it all better.

Another big change has been that the department has implemented a practice of promoting people to positions not based on their experience in correctional facilities and with dealing with offenders, but on how much education they have. I’m not saying that we should promote people just because they came up through the ranks if they can’t handle the job.

When I took supervisory training courses, conducted through state personnel, they taught us that as a supervisor, you can be a supervisor for any agency using these techniques. I disagree. Corrections is a whole different animal. Under that mentality, I could supervise for the DOT or DOE. I don’t think so. How does sitting in a classroom equate to knowledge or experience in how to run a correctional institution or system? Or how did working for another state agency give you the ability to tell staff that are dealing with inmates, their way is wrong and that they need to do it your way?

The current commissioner inherited this mess. He worked in the buildings. I know him and like him. I remember him as one of the first lieutenants at the Boot Camp. He knew at that time the importance of discipline and rules. I only hope that he has not forgotten the trenches and bases his decisions with that experience in mind.

The governor has also inherited this mess. He has pledged to make jails safe for our correctional staff. Maybe the governor and the legislators will untie the bonds that hamper our correctional staff and let them take back control of the jails. I’m not saying that we should go back to the days when officers carried whips and beat the inmates. I was taught on the first day of the academy to be firm, fair and consistent. I was also taught how to get a correctionally desired result, and when and what level of force was needed and warranted to achieve that effect.

Now, prison is not a place that I would like to wind up. You take a bunch of people who have little to no home training or have abandoned that training, and who, when they were at home, didn’t try to better themselves, and put them in a confined space. The prisons are full of people that have limited personal hygiene skills, even though they are given soap and an opportunity to bathe and brush their teeth daily.

The food is not what I cook at home, either, but it is a balanced, nutritional diet, and in a lot of cases, is better than what they ate at home. Here’s a clue: IT’S JAIL; IT’S NOT SUPPOSED TO BE NICE. It’s supposed to be a deterrent to make you want to abide by the law and live a crime-free life. We have allowed our correctional system to become a joke.

Inmates are not made to get up every day and make their beds and go to work or education so they can learn how to be law-abiding, tax-paying, productive members of society. Instead, they stay up late, sleep all day, have cable-style TV, commissary items that are cheaper than we can get them at the store, laundry service, free food and medical care. And yet, they cry about it because they want better.

Make jail, jail. Make them earn what they get; make them respect what they get. If nothing else, have them work a chain gang. Maybe they should be made to maintain the state roadways or park systems and save the taxpayers’ money. Maybe short-term inmates should be made to make big rocks into little ones. That way, they can appreciate earning their freedom, and [it would] teach them that they don’t want to come back.

I know that my feelings are not going to be liked by all, and I am sorry for that, but you have the right to disagree. Not all inmates are bad people. There have been inmates that I liked, who made a mistake and sincerely worked to reform themselves and paid their debts. But there are a lot of people walking free that should be behind bars.

Some people are so liberal that they think we don’t need a death penalty. Some people say it’s sacrilegious to execute someone because it disobeys one of the commandments, but they forget that the same book states “an eye for an eye.”

Here’s that nasty word again: it’s a deterrent to keep you from committing murder. The last man hanged before Bill Bailey was in 1946, and it was, I believe, about six months from crime to execution. If you know that committing murder meant you will be executed in six months, you might stop and think. For the court to scrap the whole death penalty because they have a problem with one part is asinine. When your car blows a tire, you don’t scrap the whole car; you fix the tire. Change the current death penalty laws to conform with the requirements and fix the problem.

Lastly, to the people who protested at the grounds of JTVCC on Feb. 2 after the announcement of Lt. Floyd’s death, You’ve got to be to the lowest form of life.

Again, this is the way I feel and I don’t apologize for these thoughts and feelings. I feel very strongly on my opinion of this matter. I have family and friends that still work for the department and I care about their safety. To this end, I plan to use any method or means at my disposal to express this opinion.

David W. Vinson
Retired Sergeant, Delaware Department of Correction

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