Bill Allowing Ex-Offenders to Work for DOC Advances

DOVER – A House committee released bipartisan legislation Wednesday aimed at allowing the Department of Correction to hire ex-offenders to work part-time for the agency.

Sponsored by Rep. James “J.J.” Johnson, House Bill 264 would allow DOC to offer casual/seasonal employment for up to six months to ex-offenders who demonstrate exceptional job skills while enrolled in a Level 4 or Level 5 vocational program, notwithstanding any prior felony convictions. State law currently forbids the department from employing any person ever convicted of a felony offense in Delaware or any other state or jurisdiction.

“The Department of Correction approached us about this issue,” said Rep. Johnson, D-New Castle, who also chairs the House Correction Committee. “We want people who are imprisoned to gain useful job skills that will allow them to become productive members of society once they are released, but we are blocking them from obtaining a job with the department that helped train them. To me, it makes perfect sense that the Department of Correction would have the best idea of who they should hire. I’m glad to see so many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle supporting this bill.”

Rep. Johnson said Commissioner of Corrections Robert M. Coupe approached him and Rep. Steve Smyk while they were touring Sussex Correctional Institution earlier this year.

“We believe this gainful employment, which could last up to six months and would pay fair wages funded by our Correctional Industries program, would provide additional assistance and stability to individuals transitioning back into the community,” Commissioner Coupe said. “In addition, the newly hired employees would be able to serve as mentors to offenders entering the vocational programs. Our initial vision is to utilize this program for the Motor Pool Automotive Program and for our upcoming Culinary Arts Program. If successful, we certainly would consider expanding the program.”