Delaware’s Department of Correction has a new incentive program that seeks to help fill Correctional Officer vacancies throughout the state.
As of this week, new Correctional Officers get a hiring bonus of $3000, paid in two installments.
The starting salary of Delaware correctional officers will also rise. Starting July 1st, it’ll be $43,000, up from its current $40,000. Current correctional officers will get an identical raise. Current Department of Correction employees are encouraged to recruit applicants, with a new referral bonus of $1000.
The hiring incentives aim to address severe understaffing at the Department of Correction. Department spokesperson Jamie Young says the state needs to hire 260 additional Correctional Officers to be fully staffed. But Geoff Klopp, President of the Correctional Officers’ Association of Delaware (COAD), says the state is short 440 officers—nearly double the Department’s estimate.
According to Klopp, the Department of Correction has a problem not only hiring Correctional Officers, but keeping them.
“We lose 57% of the people that we hire, in the first three years,” he said.
He blames the job’s compensation package, which he says is not competitive with that of other state law enforcement agencies.
Commissioner Perry Phelps says understaffing is a problem nationwide. He blames the difficulty of the job, negative images of law enforcement in the media and a generation that simply isn’t drawn to the profession.
“We need to find someone that’s at least 19.5 years of age, interested in the Department of Correction, interested for the right reasons, and also can pass our extensive background investigation,” said Phelps.
Staffing woes locally intensified after last February's fatal hostage standoff at the Vaughn Correctional Center. Nearly 300 officers left or were terminated since then, and hiring has not kept pace.
Some Delaware correctional officers work mandatory overtime because of this under-staffing. According to COAD’s Klopp, the Department is projected to spend over $30 million on overtime pay this budget year.
According to the Department, current levels of Correctional Officer under-staffing are not the worst they’ve been. Commissioner Phelps says 2000 through around 2005 were peak hiring gap years.
The union’s Klopp contests this, saying there are “ghost vacancies” right now that the Department is failing to acknowledge. Klopp claims that current levels of under-staffing are the worst they’ve been, using the metric of overtime hours worked.
“There’s always been incremental forced overtime, but now it’s gotten to levels that we’ve never seen, extremely unsafe levels,” said Klopp, “Very cancerous to the fibers of human beings, the amount of work that some officers are having to work at some of these facilities.”
Commissioner Phelps, who was once a Correctional Officer himself, says he is committed to boosting hiring, the only way to bring those overtime hours down.