Delaware Public Media

Dept. of Corrections continues to struggle to retain prison employees

Feb 6, 2018

Gov. John Carney’s budget plan includes an additional $20 million for Delaware prison employees.

Corrections officers told lawmakers yesterday working conditions, low pay and benefits are still turning off new hires and existing employees.

Carney approved pay raises and adding staff to Delaware’s prisons after last year’s deadly inmate riot at Vaughn Correctional Center.

But over a year later, 261 positions in the Delaware Department of Corrections are currently unfilled statewide. Commissioner Perry Phelps told budget writers on the Joint Finance Committee it’s unclear how many of the 379 cadets hired last year they still employ.

“With corrections and any law enforcement, sometimes when the people get there, and that’s another thing we need to do is realistic job previews," he said. "They get there and they say ‘This is not for me’ and they leave. But I agree that if we brought in 379 and didn’t keep that many, that’s a problem.”

Phelps also argued it can be a rewarding career.

“No doubt about it, it’s a dangerous place to work," he said. "Things can happen, however, it’s not all bad as people are sometimes led to believe. I worked there for 30 years, I’m proud of what I’ve done, I’m proud of the people that I work with. It’s a very honorable profession.”

Phelps declined to answer questions after the hearing.

DOC officials said some of the vacant positions are the new jobs created last year. Others were created by retiring employees.

Correctional officers told lawmakers Tuesday they’re still frequently forced to work overtime and retirement benefits are substandard. They added inmates continue to attack them.

Phelps said he wants to offer signing bonuses to attract more applicants. But that’s not included in Carney’s recommended budget. Neither is a college scholarship program for children of DOC employees Phelps has suggested to retain workers.