Delaware governor signs criminal justice reform bills

 (Shana O'Malley/for NewsWorks)

(Shana O'Malley/for NewsWorks)

A package of bills aimed at reforming some of the state’s criminal justice practices were signed into law by Gov. Jack Markell on Wednesday.

Markell and state lawmakers gathered at the Hope Achievement Center in Wilmington to explain how the bills will help curb recidivism and reintegrate ex-offenders back into the community.

“Together they represent a philosophical change of how to address the many challenges that are related to our offender population, the vast majority of who are going to re-enter our communities,” Markell said.

Under House Bill 264, the Department of Corrections will now be able to temporarily hire ex-offenders who possess exceptional work skills.

“We realized we wanted to develop our vocational program better to help with re-entry but we realized when an offender finished that program suddenly their thrust back into the community, they don’t have work but they have a skill,” explained Robert Coope, commissioner of the Delaware Department of Corrections.

Under the new law, ex-offers who have successfully completed a vocational program and possess a strong work ethic can be hired for up to six months while they search for full-time employment.

After ex-offenders gain employment, they face another challenge of how to get to work. Senate Bill 217 removes the loss of driver’s license for drug offences that do not involve a vehicle, allowing more ex-offenders to be able to hold down a job.

“We’re moving to an approach that still ensures that offenders serve their time but also that they have a fair opportunity to get a job and contribute to their families and their state when they’re released,” Markell said.

Corey, a local Wilmington man and former inmate, spoke first hand about how hard it was to try and rebuild his life without a driver’s license.

He explained that he had to ride the bus or take rides with co-workers to get to his job and to rehabilitation counseling.

“This rectangle thing right here, we all take for granted but I cherish it,” he said while holding up his driver’s license.

Markell also signed House Bill 312, which will make Delaware the last state in the country to allow judges to decide whether to impose concurrent or consecutive sentences.

“Judges will now be able to determine whether a person should serve consecutive sentences with more time in prison or concurrent which would be less time,” explained Rep. Stephanie Boulden, D-Wilmington, sponsor of the bill.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.