Correctional Officers Stage "Sick Out" at Delaware Prisons - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Correctional Officers Stage "Sick Out" at Delaware Prisons

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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)

DOVER, Del. -- Delaware correctional officers staged a "sick out" on Monday to demonstrate frustration over a perceived lack of action on calls to raise salaries and address other issues in prisons, according to sources familiar with the decision.

Dozens of correction officers participated in the coordinated sick day, according to sources with knowledge of the demonstration who were not authorized to speak publicly about the rank-and-file COs calling out.

DoC Spokeswoman Jayme Gravell said in an email message that the "vast majority" of correctional officers showed up for work Monday but would not comment on staffing levels at Delaware prisons, citing a potential safety risk.

However, Gravell noted that inmate visitation, a privilege officials have said is allowed under adequate staffing levels, was canceled at the Howard Young prison in Wilmington and at the Sussex Correctional Institution near Georgetown. The same privileges were available at the Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna and the Baylor Women's Correctional Institution and court and transport services involving correctional officers were not disrupted.

"Generally speaking, in the event of a staffing shortage, Wardens are empowered with the ability to cancel certain privileges including visitation and programs. This allows Officers to be assigned to different posts within the institution. We may also require mandatory overtime, but it’s something we try to avoid when possible," she said.

Additionally, Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps asked COs in an internal email to DoC staff not to participate in a sick out.

Phelps message, obtained by WBOC, told officers issues like pay could not be resolved overnight and require legislative approval. He also noted prisons may have to "freeze" COs in order to cover staffing requirements because of a "sick out."

"You currently have the support of the public and DOC leadership. It may feel like change isn’t happening fast enough, but a “sick out” is not the way to enact change or make a statement," he wrote. 

The decision by many COs to hold a "sick out" comes more than two months after the Feb. 1 hostage situation at Vaughn, in which correctional officer Steven Floyd was killed. The inmate uprising has heightened tensions from correctional officers over issues like pay and safety, which many of them say is the reason for chronic understaffing at prisons.

Dover Attorney Stephen Hampton, who is considering a potential class action lawsuit against the state on behalf of Vaughn inmates claiming mistreatment followed the hostage situation, said the issues at Delaware prisons need to be addressed and the "sick out" was intended to send a message.

"This is one way they can do it," he said. "They can't really strike of course but this is a way they can call people's attention to some of their issues."

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