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Some Delaware Correctional Officers Concerned Over Rec. Time for Maximum Security Inmates

Posted: 09/21/2017 20:31:00 -04:00 Updated:
The James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Del. (Photo: WBOC) The James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Del. (Photo: WBOC)

DOVER, Del.- Some correctional officers in Delaware are concerned about staffing accomodations for maximum security inmates at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, a prison that experienced an inmate uprising in February in which a correctional officer died.

Jurgen Burgoyne, a former correctional officer, said he and colleagues who still work at Vaughn are concerned about a decision to resume giving maximum security inmates 17-and-a-half hours of recreational time a week. The move, he said, puts extra strain on correctional officers at a time because it exposes them to dangerous inmates who are less restrained than they usually are.

"Allowing each inmate 17-and-a-half hours a week --- the only way you can accomplish that is to run more inmates, and that's totally egregious," he said.

The policy was tied to a legal settlement from a lawsuit partially backed by the ACLU and Community Legal Aid Society Inc. of Delaware, but it was suspended following the hostage situation in February. DoC spokeswoman Jayme Gravell said the original decision to employ the policy happened last year but it was re-instituted over this past summer.

Geoff Klopp, president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware, said correctional officers are concerned about accommodating the recreational time for maximum security inmates but thin staffing levels have made it difficult to administer rehabilitative programs and some procedures.

"We don't have enough staff to do that safely. We're going to do that to the best of our ability but we continue to be stretched thinner and thinner," he said.

Officials have recently said there were roughly 270 vacancies in the Department of Correction, though Klopp estimated there are as many as 400 correctional officer vacancies in the Department of Correction, a figure he partially associates with high turnover and a larger-than-usual rate of attrition of COs retiring or resigning after the inmate uprising.

Lawyers representing some inmates and advocates for criminal justice reform have argued conditions for inmates in the prison are inhumane and the recreational time is important for inmates seeking to serve their sentence and return to society.

Vaughn was the site of an inmate uprising that began on Feb. 1. Officials have said inmates seized control of Building C at the prison and took four correctional staffers hostage.

Two captive correctional officers were released by the inmates, but Lt. Steven Floyd, a third CO held by the inmates, was discovered dead when law enforcement stormed the prison the following day.

The causes and factors behind the uprising have received intense scrutiny and speculation following the incident and were also the subject of an independent review called for by Gov. John Carney.

Authors of the report said Vaughn was dangerously overstaffed with correctional officers who were stressed and overworked because of mandatory overtime required to fill coverage gaps. The report said Floyd himself also indicated to prison administrators that he wanted some inmates believed to have organized a disruptive incident to be moved to other buildings for security concerns.

The hostage situation also spurred Carney to propose spending millions of dollars to hire more correctional officers and pay for new training and equipment for prison staffers to improve safety.

A criminal investigation into the uprising and Floyd's death continues. Authorities said in early August that they hope to present an indictment for consideration by a grand jury within 90 days. The independent reviewers did not have access to police investigative reports, DOC internal affairs documents, or other reports involved in the criminal investigation.

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