Governor Carney talks plans to improve Delaware prison conditions [video]

 (Nichelle Polston/WHYY)

(Nichelle Polston/WHYY)

Governor John Carney, D-Delaware,  will act on recommendations to improve prison conditions in Delaware.

His announcement comes four months after a correctional officer was killed by inmates in February and less than a week after an independent review by the Delaware Department of Correction was released. That report examined the environment at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center. Gov. John Carney says he has prioritized his agenda to make sure the February 1st incident where inmates took over the prison never happens again.

“We should all take this Independent Review seriously,” said Governor Carney. “It’s time to focus on addressing the difficult problems facing our prisons. We cannot let this report collect dust on a shelf.

There are a number of things on the To-Do list such as appointing a person to enforce strong management practices and proper training at the Department of Correction. The special assistant will report to the DOC Commissioner. Also the State Police and DOC will meet monthly to improve policies to handle incidents like the one in February.  According to Carney, the goal is to allocate $2 million to purchase new cameras at the Smyrna prison which ultimately needs to be approved by the General Assembly. Then there’s a proposed salary increase for correctional officers. The reasoning behind that will hopefully eliminate the shortage of guards along with staffing plans by a Department of Human Resources. Finally, a new Bureau Chief of Community Correction will be recruited to manage re-entry programs and help to reduce recidivism.

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“We are committed to addressing the issues facing our correctional system,” said Perry Phelps, Commissioner of the Delaware Department of Correction. “This plan will help us address the safety and security of our facilities, more effectively recruit and retain correctional officers, and invest in new equipment and technology that will help us operate more safely and efficiently.”

There’s an ongoing staffing study in motion at the prison. Senator Margaret Rose Henry who has worked on criminal justice reform in the past supports Carney’s plans.

“The important thing is that we are now talking and listening to one another and moving forward to address some of the structural issues that will improve the conditions in our prison for both guards and inmate population,” Rose Henry said.

Although critics have voiced their concerns about the report and whether it does enough to improve conditions for inmates, Geoffrey Klopp, head of the Correctional Officers Association said the inmates are also a priority.

“Once we get the staffing addressed and get proper staffing we will be able then to give the inmates the programs that we need. Look we know the inmates need help too but we have to have enough staff to hopefully move forward with new programs and new possibilities for the inmates to get rehabilitation,” Klopp said.

“We have a duty to provide a secure environment inside the correctional system, both for the sake of our dedicated staff and for inmates they supervise,” said State House Minority Whip Deborah Hudson. “The actions announced by the governor constitute a down payment on satisfying that obligation.”

Governor Carney hopes the legislature will incorporate the proposed changes in the budget, which needs to be approved by June 30th.

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