Three inmates at Wilmington's Young Prison sat just feet away from elected officials, prison administrators and others involved with the legal system Thursday morning to learn more about a prison innovation research project.
Its goal: to make conditions safer and more humane, and more directed toward rehabilitation.
The Urban Institute, backed by Arnold Ventures, is working with the University of Delaware to survey the population of inmates as well as correctional officers and others who work at the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution. Delaware is one of five states to receive a $100,000 grant for such research.
"In each state there is one prison that will provide research and data and various methods to better understand the experience of incarceration for the people who live and work there so we can guide changes and innovations to improve the experience of incarceration and ensure that people leave here are safer and are better citizens in our communities," Urban Institute Vice President of Justice Policy Nancy La Vigne said.
On an average day, Young Prison has a population of about 1,400 inmates. They may include detainees who spend very short periods of time there as well as offenders who face sentences of multiple years in prison.
"This project is looking at the day-to-day lives of the individuals living and working here," University of Delaware Center for Drug and Health Studies Senior Scientist Dan O'Connell said. "We're going to target this project on a specific set of issues which aren't defined yet and are going to be dealing with like the well-being of inmates, the well-being of correctional staff."
Shaun Reilly, who has been serving a multi-year sentence for racketeering and a firearms offense, is on a council of inmates at Young Prison. He sat in on Thursday's discussion.
"Somebody cares. That's the first step," Reilly said.
"Most of us understand that this change won't happen while we're here, however if we can lay the foundation for those that come unfortunately after us, there's hope for a better and brighter future for all of us here as inmates."
Maurice Backus, who's in prison for drug-related offenses, is also on the inmate council.
He was asked an open question: what's it like here?
"It has its good and bad. Nobody wants to be in prison but at the end of the day you've got to make the best of it."