Gov. John Carney in his State of the State address on Thursday vowed continued efforts to improve prison safety and combat opioid addiction in 2018.
In his remarks to a joint session of the General Assembly, Carney touted “significant investments” in the Delaware Department of Correction since last year’s deadly takeover of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, including updates to equipment, recruitment, technology and training.
The incident, which occurred just 15 days into Carney’s first term, prompted an independent review of security conditions and the appointment of a special assistant tasked with ensuring that reforms are put into place. According to a report released last week, the DOC has begun installing cameras at state prisons, improvements were already underway to improve staff retention and communication, as well as to bolster services provided to inmates.
Lawmakers last year also approved a 22 percent salary increase in correction officer starting salary to $40,000, a figure which is slated to rise to $43,000 in July.
On Thursday, Carney said those efforts would continue throughout 2018, as the state makes progress toward meeting the 41 recommendations put forward by the independent review team in September.
“I made a commitment that the independent review report would not collect dust on a shelf. It has not, and it will not,” he said.
Carney also told lawmakers that he planned to build on legislation, passed last year, that aimed to reduce the over-prescription of painkillers and expand access to substance-abuse treatment in Delaware.
“Very soon, under the leadership of our lieutenant governor, we will recommend more reforms to help control this terrible epidemic,” he said.
The address was monitored online, via a live video stream provided by Carney’s office.
Carney’s 36-minute speech outlined his administration’s major policy goals in the coming year, which will be reflected in the governor’s budget proposal to the General Assembly later this month. The top priorities, he said, would include strengthening the economy working to improve public health and safety.
But Carney also emphasized the need to invest in public education, a perennial hot-button issue and now the target of a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware.
Filed earlier this week, the complaint accuses the state of violating the state constitution by failing to ensure adequate education funding for low-income students, children with disabilities and English-language learners.
Carney did not address the suit on Thursday, but he highlighted the state’s support to help city schools achieve smaller class sizes, more professional development for teachers, capital upgrades, an early learning center and parent supports.
“We are working with the Christina community to come up with ideas for using the existing school buildings in a way that is better for kids,” he told members of the Delaware Senate and House of Representatives.
“This may be the most difficult thing we do during this administration, but it is clearly the most important. Next week, I’ll be coming to you with a budget request to help us with these efforts, and I’ll be asking for your support,” Carney continued.
The speech also touched on Carney’s commitment to pay equity for state employees and to invest in state buildings that have ”fallen into disrepair,” both goals that the Delaware judiciary has been pushing in recent years.
Specifically, Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. last fall asked that Carney’s annual budget request include appropriations to offset the cost of parking for state employees in Wilmington and increased funding for two new downstate Family Court facilities.
Carney’s speech did not mention Strine’s specific requests.
The chief justice is expected to make another pitch to lawmakers in February.