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Archive for October, 2009

October 16, 2009

Department of Correction

Central Administration Building

Commissioner Carl C. Danberg

245 McKee Road

Dover, DE  19904

Commissioner Danberg,

On your recent appearance on WDEL’s Al Mascitti Show, you mentioned that the

Department of Correction’s (DOC) investigation into the David Sully case would

remain confidential.

As you are aware, a report by the Caesar Rodney Institute, entitled “Rogue

Force,” detailed the story of Mr. Sully: a Laurel businessman who was

temporarily held at the Sussex Correctional Institution in June after an arrest on a

minor infraction.  According to Dover attorney Steve Hampton, Mr. Sully was

beaten three times in one day before being taken to Beebe Medical Center for

treatment of his injuries.  At the hospital, the guards reportedly told the staff that

Mr. Sully was a mental patient.

I urge you to reconsider your stance of concealing the probe into this incident.

While our legal system prudently protects the disclosure of selected sensitive

information, the DOC could release some of these findings without violating the

privacy of the alleged victim or interfering with any potential action against

agency personnel.

By concealing the product of this investigation, the Department of Correction is

furthering a public crisis of trust in the department that began with multiple

documented instances of healthcare neglect earlier this decade.  Those incidents

led to the current Memorandum of Agreement with the U.S. Justice Department,

under which the DOC has been forced to operate for the last three years.

I cannot say if the highly publicized report involving Mr. Sully is accurate.

However, it is certain that a failure to release any information to the public

connected to the DOC’s investigation into these allegations will, rightly or

wrongly, advance the perception that the agency has something to hide.

Within the confines of applicable law, I urge you to make available for public

review any details on the David Sully investigation, as well as any other

investigation the DOC initiates into the many other Caesar Rodney Institute

stories alleging misconduct in the state’s prisons.  Such information could be

posted on the DOC website at no cost to the agency.

I look forward to receiving your timely response.

Sincerely,

State House Minority Leader

Richard Cathcart

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The Center for Fiscal Accountability has chosen SunlightOnSchools.org as its current featured website.  This feature will help spread the word about Sunlight on Schools and help to increase awareness about how our schools are performing and what Delaware taxpayers are paying for the state’s school districts and charter schools.

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Do you want to know which school district in Delaware raises the most money?

Do you want to know how many education dollars actually get spent on instruction?

Do you want to know which Delaware school district has the highest cost per pupil?

Would you like to see just how Delaware’s schools are performing?

If you answered yes to any question above, then you should visit www.SunlightOnSchools.org.

Hearing the calls for more accountability in Delaware, the Caesar Rodney Institute has launched a new Web site – www.SunlightOnSchools.org – to make it easier for all  Delawareans to know how their local school districts are performing.

Sunlight on Schools is ideal for anyone interested in education in Delaware. In just a few clicks, you can see how local school districts are spending taxpayer dollars and how Delaware public schools are performing.

In an effort to create a better understanding of school performance and funding, Sunlight on Schools allows every Delawarean to see important information on the state’s 19 school districts as well as charter schools.

In addition to school performance measures, the site contains all teacher, administrative, and professional staff salaries.

The data comes directly from the Delaware Department of Education and the state Division of Accounting.

Sunlight on Schools allows users to view single district reports and to compare up to five school districts in Delaware simultaneously. Users can search metrics such as; cost per pupil, teacher/administrator compensation, enrollment trends, expenditure and revenue information, district debt, student teacher ratios, and reading, writing and math proficiency among other performance measures.

While all of the information is already publically available, Sunlight on Schools makes finding the data far more convenient. Now, Delawareans can read and understand the information without scouring the Internet to find it.

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A couple of weeks ago, the Newark Charter School announced that its students produced “exceptional scores in social studies and science” per May 2009 DSTP data recently released by the State Board of Education.

The scores reflect high marks for the school’s 8th grade students.

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Per the school’s release,

Newark Charter School’s 8th grade students had the highest science and social studies scores in the state.  In science, 98.7% of the 8th graders met or exceeded the standards, and in social studies 97.4% did the same.  Also, in the State of Delaware, 5% of 8th grade students scored at the Distinguished level in Social Studies and 14% scored that high in Science.  At Newark Charter School, 46% of the 8th graders scored at the Distinguished level in Social Studies and 59% scored at the Distinguished level in Science.

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The scores are evidence that charter schools are a great alternative to traditional public schools. The bottom line is that Newark Charter continues to perform quite well and above state averages. Congratulations to the school and more importantly, its students.

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Correction Commissioner Carl Danberg announced Thursday that allegations made by Laurel small businessman David Sully were unfounded.

Sully told the Caesar Rodney Institute that guards at the Sussex Correctional Institute nearly beat him to death last June. Several of the wounds on his face —  inflicted by multiple closed-fist strikes — required stitches to close.

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David Sully says guards at the Sussex Correctional Institute nearly beat him to death last June.

Danberg, speaking on WDEL’s Al Mascitti Show, implied Sully had done something to merit the beating, although he did not provide additional details.

He also said he will not open the investigation to the public.

The investigators, Danberg said, “work directly for me.”

He refused to be interviewed by the Caesar Rodney Institute.

Sully said the findings were expected.

“It’s standard procedure for the DOC,” Sully told the Caesar Rodney Institute. “It’s hard to accept that they’re going to get away with it. It’s deadening in a way.”

When told of the commissioner’s comments, Sully said he faxed a photo of his battered face to Danberg’s office, along with a written note saying, “This happened at SCI.”

Sully still suffers from headaches and pain caused by the assault.

“I think his [Danberg’s] findings are a disgrace for him and for the state,” Sully said. “How many other beatings have they covered up? Who’s going to be next?”

Sully said all he did to draw the guards’ ire was to ask to speak to a supervisor.

“The pictures speak for themselves,” he said. “I was beaten so bad, and pepper sprayed. They were punching and kicking me like I was a dog. It is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”

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David C. Weiss, acting-U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware, told the Caesar Rodney Institute he received the letter sent by lawmakers today, requesting a two-pronged federal investigation of the state’s prison system.

“I am reviewing the letter,” Weiss said, citing federal rules prohibiting further discussion.

Six legislators asked Weiss to investigate the prison’s health care system, and to conduct a criminal probe of allegations of abuse and neglect that were raised by the Caesar Rodney Institute.

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As the elected officials were calling for a federal probe, Correction Commissioner Carl Danberg announced he’s seeking a new prison medical vendor, and making substantial changes to the vendor contract.

By Lee Williams

Dover attorney Steve Hampton holds an illustration of an MRI of inmate known as "brother with two heads," during a press conference Wednesday at Gander Hill prison. The DOC's refusal to treat the inmate's cancer led to his death.

Dover attorney Steve Hampton holds an illustration of an MRI from an inmate known as "the brother with two heads," during a press conference Wednesday at Gander Hill prison, along with House Minority Leader Richard Cathcart. The DOC's refusal to treat the inmate's cancer led to his death. Cathcart, Hampton and others called for a federal probe of the prison system.

Six state legislators have asked the U.S. Justice Department to investigate shoddy inmate medical care and criminal allegations of abuse and neglect in Delaware’s prison system.

The lawmakers based their two-pronged request on a series of reports the Caesar Rodney Institute launched seven weeks ago, which revealed allegations of abuse by corrections officers at the Sussex Correctional Institution (SCI) and medical neglect throughout the system.

Speaking in the shadow of the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington, House Minority Leader Richard Cathcart, R-Middletown, said the allegations are disturbing, and that he and the other lawmakers have little confidence in the state’s internal investigation.

“Some people are going to try to characterize this as political, or claim we’re jumping the gun, or whatever,” Cathcart said. “That’s just smoke and mirrors. In fact, we have not criticized anyone. What I’m saying is our state’s recent actions on similar issues have undermined its trustworthiness to such an extent that I do not think it can be left to investigate these reports alone. We need an outside, objective source to bolster the state’s efforts. I think it’s critical the U.S. Justice Department renew its investigation of Delaware’s prison health care system as well as open a new probe into the reports of abuse at SCI.”

The lawmakers were joined by inmates’ families, prison guards, staff members of the Democratic caucus and Dover attorney Steve Hampton. Hampton is one of the only lawyers in the state willing to take inmate cases and speak about the grave public concern caused by poor health care.

Hampton said he represented former inmate Benjamin Sudler, “who had his lower legs amputated after they began to rot while in the custody of the DOC.”

Hampton discussed the history of problems within the DOC, and showed that even though years of internal state investigations revealed flaws, the DOC did nothing as a result.

“Health care in Delaware prisons does not meet constitutional standards,” he said.

He too is calling for an independent federal investigation.

“There is no training and no oversight. Therefore, given all of the background, I think it’s necessary to have someone come in and conduct an investigation. It’s unfortunate that Delaware isn’t going to fix it itself,” Hampton said. “We’ve really had enough studies. What we really need is someone to come in here and force change.”

Recent abuse

In one of the stories profiled by CRI that prompted Wednesday’s press conference, prison officials repeatedly ignored complaints of pain by 41-year-old inmate Daniel Kern, despite swelling in his feet and legs that was so pronounced he required the use of a wheelchair. Kern died from pancreatitis, an easily diagnosed and treated condition, which was later characterized by a state medical examiner as a death caused by “medical neglect.”

In an abuse case reported by CRI last week, a prison guard at SCI allegedly shot pepper spray directly into the mouth of 28-year-old inmate Gianfranco Carta for about 10 seconds. Carta, who was being held at the facility overnight on a charge of shoplifting, was also temporarily blinded by the spray and was walked face-first into concrete walls several times by a guard.

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice would not be without precedent. Several years ago, the agency conducted an investigation that revealed Delaware inmates were receiving inadequate medical care. That probe, which was sparked by a series of newspaper articles, led to the state signing a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the U.S. Justice Department in 2006. The state avoided a federal lawsuit by agreeing to enact reforms and achieve certain benchmarks by the end of this year.

A letter sent to David C. Weiss, acting-United States Attorney for the District of Delaware, requests that the U.S. Department of Justice reopen its investigation of Delaware’s efforts to provide adequate health care to its prison population. It also urges the Justice Department to launch an additional criminal probe into the allegations of abuse at SCI. The letter is signed by State Representatives Cathcart, Dan Short, Tom Kovach, Greg Lavelle, Dave Wilson and State Sen. Colin Bonini.

“We’re being told that the state Department of Correction and other state officials are investigating CRI’s reports,” Cathcart said. “Those claims would carry more weight if I had not heard them before.”

In 2007 and 2008, Cathcart chaired a legislative committee assembled to investigate a series of published reports focusing on charges of patient mistreatment and staff intimidation at the Delaware Psychiatric Center (DPC). The articles sparked a five-month investigation by the Delaware Psychiatric Center Investigative Committee – a bipartisan group of 11 state lawmakers. The end result of that work was a series of bills addressing issues covering multiple aspects of the DPC’s operations and proposed safeguards to protect the health and welfare of its vulnerable population.

“The people in charge of the Department of Health and Social Services, who were responsible for the operation of the DPC, kept saying they were looking at everything and that there were no problems,” Cathcart said. “But the investigation bore out nearly every allegation made in the articles. To this day, the people that were in charge of the DHSS at the time fail to acknowledge there were any issues at the DPC, despite the fact we now know the truth.”

Cathcart added that the same journalist that broke the investigative stories on the DPC is the same one that authored the recent reports on the state’s prison system for the Caesar Rodney Institute.

“Given his past reliability, and the serious nature of the charges contained in his most recent series, we would be negligent if we did not call for an objective investigation,” Cathcart said.

State Rep. Tom Kovach, R-Brandywine Hundred South, said an independent probe by the U.S. Justice Department is needed.

“The state has a demonstrated history of being unable to investigate itself and reform its own actions. When left to its own devices, it failed to take any substantial action to correct the problems at the Delaware Psychiatric Center and the prison system,” Kovach said. “It took outside efforts by the General Assembly and the U.S. Department of Justice to make any progress. It strains credibility to the breaking point to think that this time they’re going to get it right.”

Cathcart said the state’s ongoing relationship with CMS – an organization to which it pays nearly $40 million annually to provide prison healthcare – is another factor that potentially casts doubt on any investigation by Delaware officials.

“Most of the people in the prison system are there because they deserve to be,” Cathcart said. “But once the state convicts someone and puts them to jail, we have an obligation to ensure that they are treated humanely.”

New medical vendor(s) sought

As lawmakers were holding their press conference at one of his facilities, Correction Commissioner Carl Danberg announced he was seeking to replace CMS with another large vendor, or a group of smaller vendors, by releasing a Request for Proposals (RFP).  CMS’ current contract with the DOC ends June 30, 2010.

In a press release, Danberg states, “the medical contract RFP has required a single company to provide all medical care in the state’s prisons, limiting likely bidders to a few large companies, including CMS. The new RFP will allow the option of multiple vendors, so potential vendors will be able to bid to provide a portion of services, such as mental health services, substance abuse services or prescription drugs, as well as to bid on the entire contract. The Department hopes and expects this flexibility, and the increased competition it is expected to provide, will foster improved medical care and cost savings.”

Danberg did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

The current contract was first awarded to CMS in 2005 when the previous vendor withdrew from the state with little notice. Danberg said in the release that CMS’ performance since assuming the contract has been deficient in areas.

“However, DOC has been working for the last three years to satisfy the terms of a memorandum of agreement with the United States Department of Justice, and changing medical vendors in the midst of those improvement efforts would have been disruptive and may have made compliance less likely,” the press release states.

A new model

In his press release, Danberg announced another change, in which he will allow the option for a “shared risk” model, with DOC agreeing to bear the risk of certain costs in certain categories.

“The current risk model – with all inmate care being provided for a fixed price – provides the potential for contractors to limit inmate care in order to maximize profits,” the release states.

“The Department of Correction has used the last few months to prepare for and make an informed decision about this RFP,” Danberg is quoted as saying in the release. “We have reviewed the best practices from other states and interviewed medical experts from around the country in an effort to develop a better contracting model for prison health services. In addition, the Department has interviewed correctional health care professionals to identify and eliminate the impediments to competition which existed in previous contracts.”

Cathcart believes Danberg’s changes should have been made sooner.

“This isn’t a partisan attack,” Cathcart said. “We need to change the DOC’s ‘culture of failure,’ which is a quote from our governor.”

Contact investigative reporter Lee Williams at (302) 242-9272 or lee@caesarrodney.org

The Caesar Rodney Institute is a 501(c)(3) non-partisan research and educational organization and is committed to being a catalyst for improved performance, accountability, and efficiency in Delaware government.

© Copyright 2009 by the Caesar Rodney Institute

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