[ Photo: DE General Assembly ]
By: Wolf von Baumgart, Staff Writer
Speaking at a press conference in the cafeteria of Legislative Hall last Thursday, Correctional Officers Association of Delaware President, Geoff Klopp stated that Delaware’s correctional officers are in a crisis situation. He cited a “lack of action” on the part of state officials in dealing with major problems in Delaware’s prison system.
In the wake of the February 1 hostage incident at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Facility in Smyrna, during which Lt. Steven Floyd was killed, the staffing situation has been aggravated by dozens of early retirements and resignations of prison staff members.
President Klopp also stated that unless action was forthcoming, another catastrophic incident would likely occur in the state prison system before the end of the summer. He made this prediction during a live interview on WGMD (92.7 FM, Lewes), aired last Friday morning.
In response to Governor John Carney’s recent pledge to add appropriations of 50 correctional officers at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, 25 correctional officers at the Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution and over 1.5 million dollars worth of new equipment to the upcoming FY 2018 budget, Mr. Klopp said “Seventy-five officers is not enough and, as for the equipment, I have no idea what that is. We absolutely need 100 more correctional officers at James T. Vaughn alone.”
COAD has formally requested lawmakers to support a series of major institutional changes that included “a complete staffing overhaul for all Department of Corrections facilities, a new, higher salary structure for all correctional officers and establishment of a career ladder.
In a letter to state legislators earlier in the week the corrections officers union proposed that annual starting wages for a new correctional officer would be raised to $48,713 from the current $32,059 base salary, effective June 30, 2018. State law requires a new contract to be in place by December 1, 2017.
Mr. Klopp said that the COAD members’ willingness to accept voluntarily overtime could come into play. The Delaware Code bars correctional officers from staging a strike or other job action.
20th District State Representative. Steve Smyk, (R-Lewes-Milton) said “I understand the frustration. The State of Delaware is at least 100 correctional officers below authorized strength and we continue to lose more with each passing week. These staffing and compensation issues have persisted for years and it’s only the tragic, violent death of Lt. Floyd that has given them the attention they have always deserved.”