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Delaware Docket Newsletter
Spring 2011


Delaware's recent budget crisis created serious challenges for the criminal justice system. Although the number of people in the state's prisons has remained relatively constant in recent years, spending on corrections has risen sharply over the past decade. In addition, the state's facilities, many of which are aging and in need of repair, are operating near or at over capacity. According to data from the Department of Correction, Delaware spent roughly $250 million on corrections expenses last year " a 20% increase from 2006. Similarly, the cost to incarcerate an inmate in Delaware also jumped by 20% between 2005 and 2010, and violent crimes have increased across the state - from 4,868 violent crimes in 2001 to 5,365 violent crimes in 2009. Policy makers struggle with the growing need to expand prison capacity as well as invest in alternatives such as pretrial services and community- based supervision and treatment.

The Delaware Justice Reinvestment Task Force, established by an executive order from Governor Jack Markell on July 25, 2011, was created to conduct a comprehensive examination of the state's criminal justice system and find ways to reduce costs, improve public safety, and reduce recidivism. The Task Force, led by Lieutenant Governor Matt Denn, includes Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Berger, President Judge James T. Vaughn, Jr. (Superior Court), Chief Judge Alex J. Smalls (Court of Common Pleas), Chief Magistrate Alan G. Davis (Justice of the Peace Court), as well as members of the Senate and House of Representatives, criminal justice system stakeholders, such as the Attorney General, Public Defender, Corrections, Delaware State Police, and others.

"The efforts of the JRI task force are quite impressive. Stakeholders representing all aspects of the criminal justice system have provided forward- thinking recommendations for change based on data and research. The road map presented by the task force promises to benefit Delaware over the next several years."

Honorable James T. Vaughn, Jr. President Judge of Superior Court

Since its inception, the Task Force worked with the Criminal Justice Council which coordinated the efforts of the Vera Institute of Justice, an independent nonprofit national research and policy organization that focuses on justice-related issues, in examining the prison and community corrections systems and developing recommendations to both cut costs and improve public safety. Over the past months, the Task Force and Vera Institute collected and analyzed data to determine the factors that contribute to the size of the corrections population, including both pretrial detainees and sentenced individuals, and related costs. Input from policy experts, prosecutors, public defenders, parole officers, corrections officers, judges, advocate organizations, and crime victims was critical in developing the final recommendations which were released in the Delaware Justice Reinvestment Consensus Report in March 2012.

The report proposed a set of policies aimed at: (1) concentrating detention resources on high-risk defendants, (2) focusing supervision and prison resources on high-risk individuals, (3) holding offenders accountable, (4) reducing barriers to reentry, and (5) protecting and supporting victims of crime. The proposals in the report are geared toward addressing those objectives. Fundamental recommendations adopted by the Task Force include the implementation of two new risk assessment tools " one to be used pretrial to evaluate an offender's risk of flight and re-arrest, and a second risk assessment to be used to enhance the ability of the judges to choose appropriate sanctions (and identify individuals who are good candidates for alternatives to incarceration), and to reduce recidivism.

Other Task Force recommendations included: increasing pretrial supervision capacity; providing training to Justice of the Peace Court judges and others on the administration of the pretrial risk assessment; assessing inmates and probationers for risk and need areas and providing adequate programming to address those "factors most closely associated with recidivism;" instituting an earned compliance credit program for inmates that would encourage them to complete programs focused on reducing recidivism; issuing criminal summonses for certain low-level offenses instead of arrest; imposing a graduated sanctions scheme for probation violations proportional to severity and risk; promoting the use of evidence-based practices by community service providers to support exoffenders' efforts to readjust to society after release; undertaking a study to analyze and address common reentry barriers (such as restrictions on housing and employment); and enhancing services and responses to victims, in part, by providing victimcentered programming.

The Task Force began its implementation effort, with the introduction of Senate Bill 226 on May 16, 2012, with other implementation initiatives to follow.