Gov. John Carney also noted state police have yet to finalize a criminal investigation into the uprising
Gov. John Carney is intent on changing the culture inside the state Department of Correction.
Carney’s announcement came June 6 in the first press conference held to discuss the Feb. 1-2 prison riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna that resulted in a standoff and the death of correction officer Lt. Stephen Floyd.
The governor was reacting to a June 2 independent review that found understaffing, poor communications and management, high turnovers and overcrowding led to the uprising.
Key to the plan is the appointment of a new position that will review management conditions within the entire prison system. Carney said that individual, who most probably will be someone from outside state government, will make progress reports six months and then one year after his or her appointment.
That individual will be responsible for pushing through any recommendations to improve how the prison system is run, Carney said.
“Part of it is to make sure that these changes are made part of the way we do business,” Carney said. “That’s what you’re talking about when you talk about culture change.”
Many of the ideas put forward came from interviews with correction staff.
“Some of these things were things that were apparent to management and certainly to corrections officers,” the governor said.
He was told, “pretty directly,” about some of the problems during a town hall meeting with correction officers, Carney said.
How the DOC and Delaware State Police reacted to the uprising also will be under review, Carney said. There has been criticism on how DOC and DSP personnel handled the crisis by allowing it to continue for almost 15 hours.
State police have yet to finalize a criminal investigation into the uprising and determine who was responsible for Floyd’s death. An autopsy report concluded Floyd’s death was the result of homicide by trauma.
The governor plans to request the General Assembly to approve the purchase of new camera systems at the Vaughn Center; the interior of Building C, where the riot took place, was not under video surveillance.
In addition, the state is continuing collective bargaining negotiations with the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware in an effort to decrease the use of mandatory overtime and increase officers’ base pay. The June 2 report noted officers sometimes are ordered to work two consecutive shifts -- 16 hours -- to cover staffing shortages.
Perhaps one of the hardest goals to accomplish is Carney’s desire to eliminate the shortage of correction officers. Currently, the system is about 100 officers understaffed; Carney acknowledged the state must work to make a career in corrections more attractive to prospective employees.
“You’ve got 100 vacancies right now. You could have 100 more, but if you’re not filling the 100 you’ve got it doesn’t matter … if you’re not getting new bodies,” he said.
All told, Carney envisions spending at least $11.5 million on improvements. The new spending will be to improve training, increase hazard pay and authorize an additional 75 positions at the Vaughn Center and the Baylor women’s center in New Castle.
That cost, however, may go up depending on the outcome of a pending contract with COAD, Carney said.
These additional costs mean the General Assembly will have to find the money to make them a reality.
“It’s going to mean more, it’s going to mean a bigger deficit if you will,” Carney said. When questioned during a series of town hall budget meetings, Carney said he repeatedly stressed the fact that fixing the prison system will be expensive.
“Every time somebody asks, my answer was the same, it’s going to cost us more money, but we have to do it,” he said.
Carney could not provide an estimate on how much the final cost might be.
The governor also acknowledged it won’t be easy solving a problem that’s been festering for decades.
“Judge me on the results,” he said, adding he expects the public will “hold our feet to the fire” if improvements don’t happen.
“That’s the fundamental question, isn’t it -- ‘What’s going to be different this time?’” he said.
A final report by the independent commission is due in August.