Guard assaulted at state prison

WILMINGTON — A correctional officer was assaulted on Wednesday, at Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington, the guard’s union said.

According to the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware, the incident took place during a routine check of inmates’ cells. That’s when an inmate became belligerent. After being told he needed to be handcuffed for safety reasons, he resisted.

A scuffle involving several officers ensued to restrain the inmate, who struck out during the incident. During the struggle an officer received injuries to his face and left knee, said the union.

This assault follows another that took place on Dec. 4, when an inmate assaulted an officer at the Sussex Correctional Institute in Georgetown. That assault, allegedly perpetrated by an inmate who’d been involved in another assault against an officer about six weeks prior, caused the officer to be treated at a local hospital for bruising and a concussion.

COAD President Geoff Klopp in a Dec. 26 story in the Delaware State News warned that assaults like this would continue and he renewed his request that Gov.-elect John Carney address staffing issues in the prisons quickly.

“We ask the governor-elect, the members of the General Assembly and the DOC to take these issues seriously,” he said in a press release. “Start working with us to reduce assaults on staff and to retrain the staff we currently employ.”

He went on to note that while this incident wasn’t severe, it showed that correction officers are under a daily threat of injury that ultimately encourages them to seek employment elsewhere — exacerbating an already growing staff shortage which may have radical consequences.

“It becomes a never-ending cycle, it has to stop,” he said.

Department of Correction (DOC) Commissioner Robert Coupe said in an interview last week that several reliable contingencies are in place that would prevent an emergency situation in the state’s prisons.

“For next year we have 83 officers that have scheduled their retirement, 30 of those are scheduled for the beginning of January,” he said. “If we ever get to the point where we have a significant staffing shortage and we’re not able to rebound fast enough, we would go back to our core mission which is the safety and security of the institutions.”

Given the number of retiring officers or officers leaving for other reasons, Mr. Coupe said the DOC’s academy is turning out enough new cadets to keep prisons staffed.

He said the DOC would first pull back on outside work such as hospital escorts, court escorts and transport work in the event that there was not enough manpower to staff crucial positions. Enlisting the overtime assistance of probations and parole officers who have been either cross-trained as or originally promoted from correctional officers also would help stem a staffing crunch.

Additionally, he said that state-wide data indicated that inmate on guard assault rates were on par with previous years and lower than the national average. There has been no appreciable increase, he said.

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