GEORGETOWN, Del. (AP/WBOC)- A top Republican party official in Delaware wants a federal investigation into a county prisoner program that the state shut down last month.
John Sigler, chairman of the Republican State Committee, has asked U.S. Attorney Charles Oberly to investigate the Sussex County prisoner program for possible civil rights violations.
The program permitted employers to use inmates as day laborers. But the state correction department shut it down last month because the Sussex Work Release Center could not produce paperwork about the inmates who provided the labor.
"The absence of any records is troubling and suggests they may not have been kept for a reason," Sigler wrote in a July 9 letter to Oberly.
An investigation by The News Journal in June revealed the state kept no formal documents on which offenders left as part of the program, where they worked or for how long, since the program started roughly 23 years ago, according to the article.
The Department of Correction acknowledged Sigler's letter to Oberly and said it is conducting its own review.
"Commissioner Danberg is confident in the department's ability to review this issue; however, the DOC will answer any questions the U.S. Attorney may have," said DOC spokesman John Painter.
Painter said Commissioner Carl Danberg could recommend new standard operating procedures or completely scrap the program. A review is expected to take up to three months.
The newspaper started its investigation following a tire burning incident in February that involved a relative of state Rep. John Atkins, D-Millsboro, according to the article. Two day laborers were drawn into a confrontation with two men who showed up to the property after seeing signs of fire.
"The state GOP chair is free to call for an investigation if he wants," said Atkins over the phone. "Pretty clear it's election year politics."
Employers throughout the county rely on the "worthwhile" program that benefits prisoners and businesses, Atkins said.