CO Overtime Not Just a Recent Issue in Delaware - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

CO Overtime Not Just a Recent Issue in Delaware

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The James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna. (Photo: WBOC) The James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna. (Photo: WBOC)

DOVER, Del. -- The hostage situation on Feb. 1 at the Vaughn Correctional Center has brought new attention on the use of overtime to staff Delaware prisons, though a report following a different incident in 2004 also focused on the issue.

A report compiled by a task force in 2005 after a counselor was taken hostage and raped said the state needed to "reduce the excessive amount of overtime that is currently being drawn upon to compensate for the shortage of security personnel available to staff needed security positions throughout DOC, particularly at the [Vaughn Correctional Center]." Additionally, the report pointed to a need for the policy of "freezing" COs with overtime to cover shifts and noted that working overtime shifts diminished officers' performance.

Leadership with the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware has said reliance on overtime and freezing officers with it have made prisons less safe at a time when there are staffing shortages. COAD President Geoff Klopp has associated some of those issues as contributing factors to an inmate uprising last month, in which correctional officer Steven Floyd died.

"The issues they found back then are applicable today," said Rep. Steve Smyk (R-Sussex County), a member of the House Corrections Committee.

The report said overtime costs had risen to roughly $8 million around that time, though lawmakers say the state is currently projected to spend more than $20 million in an upcoming budget.

Smyk said issues like understaffing have gone unaddressed and cannot be ignored any more. He said the legislature and other state leaders need to take the appropriate steps to reduce the need for overtime.

One proposal to help address the issue of understaffing has come from state Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Marydel), who offered a plan to use $15 million currently budgeted for overtime to hire 180 new correctional officers and give raises. The remaining $7 million in overtime funds would be used for that purpose.

Lawson said the proposal was meant to stimulate discussion on the issue and felt greater steps would still need to be taken by the state.

"We've got to get this right for everyone involved, the officers, the inmates, and the families," he said.

A request for information from the Delaware Department of Correction on overtime trends following the hostage situation was not returned on Friday.

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