Legislation Would Strengthen Penalties On Delaware Prison Contra - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Legislation Would Strengthen Penalties On Delaware Prison Contraband

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

DOVER, Del. -- Legislation introduced to Delaware's General Assembly would expand the list of contraband items that could result in felony charges if smuggled into a prison.

House Bill 123 would expand items that fall under the Class-F felony of promoting prison contraband to include "any prohibited electronic device not specifically authorized or approved by the Commissioner or designee, any illegal narcotic or look-a-like substance, any prescription medication, or any item or article that could be used to facilitate an escape."

Currently, deadly weapons and cellphones would cause the offense to rise above a Class A misdemeanor and into the felony threshold.

Rep. Steve Smyk (R-Milton) is the chief sponsor on the bill. He said it is intended to address concerns about contraband being smuggled into prisons and discourage anyone from attempting to bring it in. He said some inmates with records of good behavior, possibly with the assistance of a prison staff member, are able to obtain contraband during duty or exposure to communities outside prisons.

"They recognize it in their controlled environment and they'll smuggle that in," he said.

Smyk said the way in which the current law on prison contraband is written is not strong enough to discourage inmates and some staff members involved in illicit activities from trying to smuggle potentially dangerous items into prisons.

"We have to expand it to all electronic devices. We have to expand the issue to any item that can be used for escape," he said.

Dover Attorney Stephen Hampton, who has frequently tangled with officials in the Delaware prison system through legal action over the years, said he believes some staff members and correctional officers may be responsible for smuggling in contraband.

"The families and the friends that come into visit are pretty strenuously searched so there's only one other option and that's someone with the staff is bringing it in," he said.

In a statement, Delaware Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps said he would support the legislation.

“We have a duty to maintain a secure environment for staff and inmates and take seriously any attempt to compromise that," he said.

Correctional Officers Association of Delaware President Geoff Klopp said he supported the legislation and acknowledged some COs may be involved in these types of operations, pointing to chronic complaints about poor pay.

"The salaries are so pathetically low, people have nothing to lose," he said.

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