This post is part of our Winter 2018 issue of Connection, our quarterly newsletter. To read the whole newsletter, click here.
On November 7th, the Delaware Department of Correction began moving prisoners out of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center to a prison in Pennsylvania. The reason for the move is chronic understaffing and forced overtime due to insufficient prison guards in the state’s system. A recent news report indicated that there were 237 guard positions vacant despite a salary increase and a signing bonus that was negotiated with the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware earlier this year.
The plan is to move a total of 330 inmates at a cost of $123 per day. When all inmates are moved, the state will be paying $14.8 million per year. SCI Camp Hill near Harrisburg, the prisoners’ first stop, is a processing center. Family members are reporting to us that their loved ones will be classified and possibly moved to other facilities throughout Pennsylvania and that there will be no family contact permitted for the first four to six weeks after the initial move.
We are working to learn more about this transfer so that we can help ensure the safety of Delaware inmates. In 2017, Vermont transferred over 200 prisoners to Camp Hill and then moved them again to Mississippi in September 2018 after four deaths and numerous complaints of terrible conditions.
We understand that the state may view this transfer as a short-term solution to their staffing problem. However, there are alternatives to simply shipping our inmates out of state and away from their families that Governor Carney isn’t fully considering. According to the DDOC website, there are about 1,000 prisoners being held pre-trial because they can’t make bail. We know that some of these people are not dangerous and are only incarcerated because they are poor. A review of the bail terms of the lowest level offenders could significantly reduce shortterm overcrowding.
According to the 2017 DDOC annual report, 281 prisoners were 61 years of age or older and 61 of them were 71 years or older. It is well established that people “age out” of criminal behavior and the state already has a law on the books that allows for review of a prisoner’s sentence and “compassionate release” if warranted. Certainly, some number of these older prisoners can be let out.
If Delaware is going to seriously reduce our rate of incarceration, we must put fewer people behind bars in the first place and lower the number of years that they stay there. I urge Governor Carney to look for more creative solutions to the overcrowding problem than spending millions of dollars to ship Delawareans far from their family and friends.