In Wake of Vaughn Incident, State Officials Look at Officer Rete - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

In Wake of Vaughn Incident, State Officials Look at Officer Retention

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The James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna. (Photo: WBOC) The James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna. (Photo: WBOC)

DOVER, Del. -- Delaware officials said officer safety and retention are issues that will likely figure into budget discussions this year as the state responds to a hostage situation at the Vaughn Correctional Center, in which a correctional officer died.

Gov. John Carney (D) on Wednesday said the state needs to do what it can in this year's budget process to deal with issues like officer safety as well as retaining and attracting recruits. A union representing COs has said issues like understaffing and low wages have contributed to poor morale and made prisons less safe.

The Correctional Officers Association of Delaware cited those issues as contributing factors in an uprising at the JTVCC, which saw inmates take control of the "C" building and hold four staff members hostage. One of the captives, correctional officer Steven Floyd, was found unresponsive and later pronounced dead.

Carney called the incident tragic and said the state will need to identify solutions through an independent review of the hostage situation set to begin after a state police investigation concludes. 

However, he said officer retention is a major issue needing consideration in this year's fiscal plan, noting COs can retire after 25 years on the job.

"If they do, that means we're going to have to fill those positions with additional people and we're already having issues attracting people to the correctional vacancies we already have," he said.

State Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Marydel), a member of the legislature's Joint Finance Committee, has proposed taking $15 million budgeted for overtime and using it on hiring 180 correctional officers and giving $4,000 across-the-board raises in the Department of Correction, and boost a COs starting salary to roughly $37,000.

Lawson said the state needs to stop relying on a process that "freezes" officers already on the job to fill overtime duty and prevent coverage gaps. He said it makes them more fatigued and decreases their effectiveness.

"This is ridiculous. We have to get them up to a living wage and stop relying on overtime. They deserve to be home with their families."

So far, 18 officers have announced plans to leave the department or left already. Delaware Department of Correction Spokeswoman Jayme Gravell said on Wednesday six officers have voluntarily resigned and two more have announced their intention to do so. 

A total of 10 officers, six of them employed at Vaughn, have also submitted paperwork for retirement, though Gravell would not directly associate departures with the hostage situation and said roughly 11 COs leave on average each month.

COAD President Geoff Klopp said in a statement that Lawson's proposal was a good start but felt more needed to be done. He said the union would produce its own funding proposal and release it in the coming days.

"The issues which led us to where we are today require more than piecemeal efforts. We appreciate Sen. Lawson moving the discussion forward with his proposal," he said. "But more is required."

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