Del. DOC commish asks Senate for more security cameras, COs

DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps also said he is concerned about the security risks from inmates manipulating staff to do them favors


By Randall Chase 
Associated Press

WILMINGTON, Del. — The head of Delaware's Department of Correction says he could use a lot more security cameras and staff to maintain security in the state's prisons.

DOC Commissioner Perry Phelps also said Monday that he is concerned about the security risks from inmates manipulating staff to do them favors. He explained later that such activity could range from minor incidents such as getting a pencil or some leftover food, to more serious incidents such as smuggling in contraband.

Phelps was the first witness called at a Senate Labor Committee hearing regarding working conditions in Delaware prisons, the second such committee hearing since a February inmate riot and hostage-taking at the state's maximum security prison in Smyrna, during which a correctional officer was killed.

Phelps was not directly questioned about the riot, which remains the subject of a criminal investigation. Instead, he discussed broader issues regarding staffing, security and organizational challenges.

Asked about chronic staffing shortages and job vacancies within the ranks of correctional officers, Phelps said prison guards deserve to be paid "a livable wage."

"I don't know what the magic number is but I know it's not enough, what they receive now," said Phelps, a former correctional officer who rose through the ranks to become leader of the correction department. Phelps also noted that once a correctional officer is hired, the DOC must try to retain that person.

Since the Feb. 1 prison uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, at least 34 correctional officers have resigned and 20 more have submitted paperwork for retirement.

"I think a hundred would go a long way to shore things up, especially at James T. Vaughn," Phelps said when asked how many additional officers would be needed to replace those who have left and meet the department's staffing needs.

Phelps also said his department could use "a lot more" security cameras than it currently has.

David Pierce, who was replaced as warden at Vaughn after the riot, said some of the staffing and security needs outlined by a state task force in 2005 have never been met. The task force was formed after a female counselor at the Smyrna prison was taken hostage and raped by a serial rapist, who was then shot to death.

Pierce noted that one of the report's recommendations was for DOC to add 237 "full-time equivalent" or FTE, positions.

"Since that report, Vaughn Correctional Center has lost 30 FTEs and didn't gain any of the 237," he said.

"The task force recommended that there be a mechanism put in place that advises the General Assembly and the governor's office before staffing levels hit crisis situation, and that mechanism was never built, that I'm aware of," Pierce added.

Pierce also noted that while surveillance cameras were added to the area where the counselor was raped, there was no funding made available to expand camera surveillance in other areas of the prison.

"There are some cameras that can be moved around to show you the outside of the buildings, but there aren't any on the internal parts of the buildings, the housing areas," he said.

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