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Forum Focuses on Delaware Prison Conditions Amid Allegations of Inmate Abuse

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

WILMINGTON, Del. -- A forum held Monday night in New Castle County focused on improving conditions in Delaware prisons and humane treatment of inmates amid allegations from some people behind bars that staff members are physically abusive, weeks after the death of a correctional officer during an inmate uprising.

The forum, held at Canaan Baptist Church near Wilmington, featured a panel that included various community members, the head of the Delaware Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, and a former correctional officer. A number of inmates' relatives attended the meeting to discuss issues their family members are facing in prison following the Feb. 1 hostage situation at the Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, which saw the death of correctional officer Steven Floyd.

"The time for change is now," said Rev. Chris Bullock, the pastor of Caanan Baptist Church, during comments at the onset of the town-hall-styled meeting.

Among the participants was former Delaware Department of Correction Lt. Janice Hubbard, who said the incident at Vaughn had drawn new attention to longstanding issues with management in prisons like Vaughn, which is the state's only maximum-security facility.

Although acknowledging inmates had done something wrong that resulted in their incarceration, Hubbard said they deserve to be treated humanely and the correction department has lost focus on its role in rehabilitation.

"This corruption that has been going on is being exposed," she said.

Relatives of family members behind bars in prisons like Vaughn have made numerous accusations about correctional officers senselessly beating inmates as retaliation for Floyd's death, according to Stephen Hampton, a Dover attorney who said he has received more than 100 letters with such accusations.

Hampton, who is considering filing a class action lawsuit on behalf of the Vaughn inmates, said there is a minority of correctional officers who form the "good ol' boy" networks in prisons and have been responsible for abuse of inmates.

"It's horrible what these inmates are going through. A lot of these inmates weren't even in 'C' Building so [correctional officers] are abusing inmates who had nothing to do with the original event," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Correction did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the latest allegations.

Last week, Geoff Klopp, president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware, rebuked claims of abuse and mistreatment at the hands of correctional offices.
"There are no inmates sitting in cells with broken bones. There are no inmates that are being assaulted by correctional officers because we have nothing better to do," he said.

But Hampton said the sheer number of complaints and the specificity of the accounts in the letters he's received indicate to him that the abuse is real.
"It's not made up. It's happening," he said. "You can't get that many people to write letters like this that all match up if it isn't true."

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