A new commissioner oversees Delaware’s 17 prisons and community corrections centers starting Thursday.
And many priorities remain the same.
Claire DeMatteis is leaving her short stint at the Department of Correction to work for the governor in managing the federal funds coming into the state.
Taking her place is her deputy commissioner, Monroe Hudson, who spent the last 31 years with Delaware State Police before joining DeMatteis at the department.
Hudson says a major priority from day one is improving recruitment and retention of correctional officers. The state has struggled to find new officers — competing against police departments and nearby states.
Hudson says he expects a new law expanding pension benefits to quickly help bring new recruits in, and keep them for longer.
“When people realize it pays to stay longer — hopefully when they get to 25 years theyll say, it’s beneficial to stay 30, 32 years because my pensions’ going to increase,” Hudson said. “So I think 6 months, 12 months into it we’ll start to see the effect of the pension bill.”
Hudson adds his other priorities include continuing to improve inmate rehabilitation, a focus of the department in recent years — as well as continuing the security improvements started after the Vaughn prison riot in 2017.
He says he hasn't yet thought about who will replace him as his new deputy commisioner.
DeMatteis says she’s had a difficult job leading the department through a pandemic, but still got some major things accomplished.
One is Senate Bill 158 - which allows the department to pay inmates for their work with good time credits instead of an hourly wage. She says DOC has been unsuccessful in obtaining more funds to pay inmates, so this provides an option for more inmates to work.
“I think this really opens the eyes of legislators to see there is a need, there are inmates who want to work that we just didn’t have the ability to put to work,” she said.
Inmates can start working for good time credit, and as spots open up, move up to get an hourly wage as well.
The department needed the change from lawmakers since current law requires the department to pay inmates for any work they do.
DeMatteis adds she hopes legislators understand the importance of providing more funding for inmate work programs, and the benefits they offer preparing inmates for the outside world.
She anticipates at least 300 more inmates will be interested in signing up to work, the department oversees a little over 3,000 total.
Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.