Delaware’s prison system is broken.
In the wake of the killing of corrections officer Steven Floyd at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, eight guards have quit.
Inmates throughout the Smyrna prison, even those who weren’t involved in the Building C siege, now report that they went weeks following the incident without access to appropriate care for maladies ranging from chronic disease to a broken hand.
To that end, we urge the General Assembly to revisit bail reform as soon as possible. According to a 2015 News Journal report, 23 percent of state inmates are in prison not because they’re dangerous or a threat to flee. They’re incarcerated because they can’t afford bail.
Guards and staff members say they’re vastly outnumbered. So it would make sense to shrink the inmate population.
While bail reform could go a long way toward improving conditions in Delaware prisons, we are far more skeptical of another concept that has gained traction in other states – turning prisons over to a private operator.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, for-profit companies were responsible for housing seven percent of inmates in state prisons and 18 percent of federal prisoners across the country in 2015.
A 2016 Department of Justice report found that privately run prisons are more dangerous, with higher rates of assault, including assault of staff members.
Private prison companies dispute those conclusions. They also tout cost savings, though there is little independent data to back that up.
Even more concerning is the trend of private prison companies to pay guards less than their state-employed counterparts.
A recent state job posting for a correctional officer in Delaware listed a salary range of $32,000 to $43,000 plus benefits.
According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for private prison and jail guards in 2015 was $32,290. One in four private prison guards made less than $26,091 annually, Prison Legal News reported.
In conclusion, the job of fixing Delaware prisons falls to the state and the state alone.