Cape Gazette

DOC to reinstate day-labor program

Internal investigation reveals no misconduct
By Kara Nuzback | Aug 20, 2012
Source: Sussex Community Corrections Center in Georgetown houses the work release program for inmate day-labor, which was shut down pending an investigation into its lack of documentation.

A Delaware Department of Corrections official says a review of its Sussex Community Corrections Center revealed no misconduct on the part of employees.

The county day-labor program was shut down two months ago after the DOC revealed it had no records of Sussex Work Release program participants since the program began in the 1980s.

Department of Correction Commissioner Carl Danberg wrote an Aug. 13 letter to Attorney General Beau Biden saying he intends to reinstate the day-labor program, but it will be more closely monitored and policies for record-keeping will be instated.  Danberg said the small size and irregular use of the program resulted in a lack of defined policies for the center.

“Specifically, the program lacked a system for historical tracking of offender participation, it suffered from inconsistent collection of fines, restitution and other charges, and it had a history of under utilization due to a lack of broader knowledge of the program,” Danberg wrote.

In response to media requests, the DOC discovered that in its history, the work-release center kept no records of program participants, the hours participants worked, compensation for the workers or taxes reported.

In his letter, Danberg said the work program coordinator would write a memo when an employer requested an offender.  The employer was responsible for transporting and supervising the offender.  “Once the offender was returned, the memo was discarded,” he wrote.

Danberg said from now on, the day-labor program will be renamed the Short Term Labor Program.

He said employees would manually track program participants until the Department’s Automated Correctional System, which keeps track of inmates who work full-time, is updated to include inmates who work on a short-term basis.

Employers will now be required to issue business checks to offenders; the DOC will retain a copy of the check.

Danberg said he also intends to advertise the program on the department’s website, so it may be more widely used.  “Since the suspension of the day-labor program, I have heard allegations to the effect that the program was an exclusive ‘political perk’ for elected officials or for employees of the department,” Danberg wrote.

The issue stems from a Feb. 20 tire-burning incident involving Rep. John Atkins, D-Millsboro.   Atkins said he was helping his father-in-law, Allan Baker, clear a field, and when he left the property briefly, he was called back because there was a report of tires being burned.

Atkins said Baker and two workers, hired through Sussex Work Release Center in Georgetown, were on the property when the tires were thrown in the fire.

No records exist accounting for the presence of work-release inmates on the property.

House Minority Leader Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, and Rep. Deborah Hudson, R-Fairthorne, sent a July 19 letter to Attorney General Beau Biden, asking him to investigate violations of state law by the DOC.  The legislators say the department’s lack of documentation confirms the DOC violated at least four state laws dealing with work by inmates, outside employment, payment of compensation and financial liability of committed person.

In a July 30 response, State Solicitor Ian McConnel said the Attorney General’s Office would not consider an investigation of the DOC until after the department’s internal investigation is complete and the AG’s Office has reviewed its findings.

McConnel said several Justice Department attorneys are reviewing the legal implications of the day-labor practice.  “We look forward to a report from the Department of Correction explaining the day labor program and inmate accounts,” he said.

U.S. Attorney Charles Oberly shot down a similar July 10 request from Delaware Republican Party Chairman John Sigler.  Oberly told Sigler the issue was out of his jurisdiction.

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