State Senator proposes Dept of Correction salary, staff increases

 Members of the Joint Finance Committee meet in Dover in this file photo. (File/WHYY)

Members of the Joint Finance Committee meet in Dover in this file photo. (File/WHYY)

A Delaware senator wants to increase corrections staff and their salaries.

Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, announced a proposal Wednesday to boost pay for Department of Correction personnel and the number of staff at correctional facilities.

“It’s time to do right by these corrections officers,” said Lawson, a member of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. “We can use existing funds to pay these officers a more competitive salary, and in the process increase the quality and depth of the pool of new recruits.”

The issue of low salaries and understaffing at Delaware’s correctional facilities has been highlighted in recent weeks, following the death of Lt. Steven Floyd, who was killed during a hostage situation at the James T. Vaugh Correctional Center in Smyrna in early February.

Although no connection has yet been made between the hostage incident and understaffing, the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware partly blames the issue for Floyd’s death—stating that former Gov. Jack Markell, D-Delaware, made a mistake by keeping staff and salaries low to save money.

The Department of Correction is understaffed, and currently uses overtime hours to make up for the empty positions, costing the state about $22 million, according to Lawson.

COAD has stated that correctional officers don’t earn enough money for such a risky job—with a starting salary of $30,000. Since the hostage situation, 15 correctional officers have left their positions at the prison.

Lawson’s proposal would use existing overtime funds to cover the staff and salary increases.

The plan would grow staff by 180 new recruits, increase the starting salary of new corrections officers to $37,000 and increase pay for everyone currently in the Department of Correction by $4,000— a plan that would cost around $15 million, and save the state about $7 million.

Lawson said his plan allows for the remaining $7 to 8 million to be used for necessary overtime and transitional costs like increased training hours.

“This plan will allow our prisons to be properly staffed by men and women who are paid a competitive salary,” stated Lawson, a retired Delaware State Police officer. “They put themselves in harm’s way, and we owe it to the people of Delaware to properly staff our prisons. I look forward to discussing this proposal with the Department of Correction and my colleagues on the Joint Finance Committee as we prepare this year’s budget.”

 

Delaware State Police are currently investigating this month’s hostage siege at the Smyrna prison. Once that investigation is completed, a group led by former members of the Delaware judiciary will explore what led to the incident and what steps should be taken to keep it from happening again.

 

Department of Corrections Commissioner Perry Phelps said, “We will welcome any ideas Senator Lawson and the General Assembly may have which would result in DOC Correctional Officers receiving competitive and comparable salaries.”

 

 

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.