LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Little has changed in Delaware prison system

Dear Reader, I pose a serious question to you; just what is “The Delaware Way”?

As a lifelong resident of Delaware, born and raised right here in Kent County, I’ve spent my entire life hearing our two-bit politicians waxing poetically about “The Delaware Way” and I used to believe them when they would say that it meant fighting for what was right and just.

But sadly, over the years, it seems to me that “The Delaware Way” means looking out for No. 1 while forgetting everyone else, burying your head in the sand while pretending that problems just don’t exist in Delaware or kicking the can down the road for someone else to deal with.

Case in point, problems in Delaware’s prisons and unsafe working conditions for our correctional officers. You see, 17 years before the February riot at JTVCC, there was another incident at the same prison where a female counselor was raped by a prisoner. Our then governor, the illustrious Ruth Ann Minner, has the unmitigated gull and audacity to publicly state of the incident that “In prisons, you almost expect this to happen. The people who work in our prisons are doing an outstanding job.”

In the wake of the public outrage over her insensitivity, she ordered a study to be done and a report to be written about the problems in our prisons and how the DOC could safeguard COs and other employees from this happening again. What did our politicians in the governor’s office, General Assembly and higher ups in the DOC do with this information? Nothing! They ignored the problems and continued to operate with a “business as usual” attitude.

Now, problems have been flaring up in our prisons and this time, it led to the death of a CO. There has been another study, another report and guess what? This report says just about what the first one 17 years ago said. Our politicians have made wonderful sounding promises to fix the problems in the prisons and that Lt. Floyd’s death won’t be in vain but sadly, it seems that was little more than lip service to our COs and their families.

Our governor has (while refusing to meet with Lt. Floyd’s widow and family) proposed hiring a ridiculously small number of new COs that he himself admitted in a news interview wouldn’t be enough to bring our prisons up to the level of staffing that is needed and he also proposes the state establish some “temporary positions” the help guide the DOC and state Of Delaware through the process of fixing the problems.

Meanwhile, the state has also told Lt Floyd’s family that they will be billed for any funeral costs the state paid for his funeral, in response to the family retaining a lawyer and the threat of a lawsuit because the governor refused to meet with the family and answer questions they not only have the right to ask but also have a right to have answered.

Now the state’s legal counsel is arguing that the federal suit be dismissed because of all reasons, there is no constitutionally guaranteed right to a safe work environment and therefore, there was no violation of Lt Floyd’s constitutional rights caused by elected officials and DOC officials refusal to address safety and under staffing concerns in Delaware’s prisons. It’s basically a more legalese way of saying “In prisons, you almost expect this to happen. The people who work in our prisons are doing an outstanding job.” This is outrageous and disgusting to say the least.

This doesn’t sound like the version of “The Delaware Way” that all those politicians who showed up to pour drinks at the public oyster dinners at the Hartly Fire Hall or who go to the state fair to shake hands, kiss babies and hand out campaign swag, wax poetically about.

I am willing to bet that if every one of our elected officials, from the governor, right on down to the most junior of legislators in the General Assembly, were made to put on the uniform of a correctional officer and work in our prisons for a week, just one week, there would be major changes in staffing and security at our prisons.

After all, after 17 years of ignoring the problems and kicking the can farther down the road while spending millions on things like bicycle paths, our elected officials have made themselves just as complacent in the murder of Lt. Floyd as the prisoners who chose to riot and who caused his death.

As far as Gov. Carney’s “temporary positions,” if you lived here in Delaware for any great length of time, you don’t need Miss Cleo’s crystal ball to tell you what’s going to happen.

Fifteen, 20, maybe 30 years down the road, those positions will still exist and be filled by people suckling off the teat known as Delaware tax dollars while the problems in our prisons will continue to get worse. To believe anything else would be to have a few marbles loose somewhere.

Now is the time for all of Delaware’s residents who care about the conditions in our prisons (not just the COs and their families) to stand up and send the message that they care about our COs and demand that our elected officials pull their heads out of the sand and take care of the issues that have been ignored for the last 17 years so, we don’t have another CO that will never go home to their waiting family.

Ricky Shehorn

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