The Delaware Department of Correction finished training a new class of correctional employees last week.
The class includes 30 new correctional officers, who reported to facilities across the state this week.
Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps says this brings the number of hard vacancies down to around 220.
The 11-week Correctional Employee Initial Training Academy started in early April with 51 trainees, including correctional officers and correctional counselors, Department of Education teachers and physical plant maintenance mechanics. There were 38 graduates.
According to data provided by Department officials, this class had the most enrollees in almost five years. Phelps credits this in part to recent recruitment efforts.
“A lot of people don’t know what we do. So when you have someone out there face-to-face like a recruiter that’s worked in the facilities anywhere from 13 to 20, 30 years, they’re able to answer some of those questions that may cause apprehension from somebody that wants to join.”
Phelps notes this year’s projected retirements are lower than a year ago—and thinks hiring incentives announced this spring are beginning to pay off.
But Geoff Klopp, president of the Correctional Officer Association of Delaware, says the officers aren’t feeling staffing improvements yet.
“Freezing [mandatory overtime] has increased. Overtime has increased,” he said. “We’re currently working over 17,000 hours of overtime a week.”
Klopp ascribes this increase in part to summer, with some officers taking off for vacations.
He traces the broader understaffing issue to low retention.
“We currently still lose approximately 12 to 13 officers a month due to finding other employment or retirement or other reasons [for] leaving. And the academy’s an 11-week process, so if you’re only going to graduate 30-some and you’re going to lose 36, it’s kind of hard to make much positive ground.”
As slow as it feels, Klopp concedes there is progress being made.
The Fiscal Year 2019 state budget, which passed the General Assembly this week, includes funding for a $3000 increase to correctional officers’ starting salary beginning July 1. This is part of a hiring incentive announced in April.
Phelps says the department also got over $3 million for correctional officer career ladder changes, which would allow more officers to access promotions, and $4 million to implement recommendations from an independent review following last year’s hostage situation at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.
He says the department is also working on improving the grievance process for inmates.