Report on prison uprising will be released Friday

DOVER — The results of a monthslong review of February’s uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center will be publicly released Friday.

The review, conducted by a former Family Court judge and U.S. attorney, has centered on the conditions at the prison leading up to the Feb. 1 incident in which inmates took several correctional officers hostage. A 19-hour standoff followed, and correctional officer Steven Floyd was found dead after authorities breached Building C, the site of the rebellion, early Feb. 2.

Gov. John Carney, who ordered the review in February, will hold a news conference on the findings Friday. The analysis is expected to provide recommendations to better the state’s prison system and avoid a repeat incident.

“I look forward to receiving the final report of the Independent Review later this month, and I remain committed to making the necessary, long-term changes to help us improve conditions inside James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, and across our correctional system,” the governor said in a statement. “Working with members of the General Assembly, we have already made important changes, but there is more work to do.”

He pushed back the due date earlier this month from Aug. 15 to Aug. 31 to allow former Judge William Chapman and former U.S. Attorney Charles Oberly to have more time to consider comments from inmates and correctional officers.

A preliminary report published in June cited a variety of factors that may have contributed to the uprising, including communication issues between management and staff, low morale and fatigue among correctional officers and a lack of focus on rehabilitating prisoners.

Minor mistakes such as “errors in classification calculations, failures to follow procedures and/or mistakes made by fatigued and inexperienced staff … were exacerbated by perceived injustices, grievances, overcrowded and/or poorly maintained facilities, a lack of programing and work opportunities, inappropriate staff-inmate interactions and the inconsistent application of policies and procedures by corrections staff,” the report noted.

Many of the recommendations in the preliminary findings are not new but echo things advocates for both correctional officers and inmates have said for years. They also share similarities with proposals put together after a 2004 incident in which Vaughn inmate Scott Miller took a counselor hostage and raped her before being shot and killed.

“The long-standing issues within the facility, if left unattended, will continue to provide fertile ground for chaos and violence in the facility,” the preliminary report said.

The team working on the review did not have access to details from the police investigation, meaning additional information about what caused the rebellion may not be present in the findings.

Charges have not been filed in the incident. The Department of Justice said about three weeks ago it anticipates presenting an indictment to a grand jury in New Castle County within 90 days, and it stood by that timeline Tuesday.

“Delaware Department of Justice prosecutors, together with Delaware State Police investigators, continue to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the murder of Lt. Steven Floyd and the assaults committed upon other correctional staff,” spokesman Carl Kanefsky said in an email.

“This investigation presents unique challenges, not the least of which is the fact that many witnesses are themselves incarcerated inmates. On behalf of Lt. Floyd and his colleagues, a thorough, complete and professional investigation is of paramount importance so those responsible for these crimes may be held accountable.”

The fact that, more than six months later, charges are still pending has Correctional Officers Association of Delaware President Geoff Klopp frustrated.

“The longer this goes on, the more detrimental it is every day to the morale of the correctional officers,” he said.

In June, the state reached an agreement with the union to raise starting salaries from about $35,200 to $43,000 over two years and to hire more officers. The governor also appointed attorney Claire DeMatteis as a temporary special assistant to reform the Department of Correction. Ms. DeMatteis will release updates on the agency’s work in implementing the review team’s recommendations.

Lawmakers approved additional funding for additional equipment and training programs for officers as well.

Mr. Klopp said the pay raise is “a good first step in the right direction” but not enough of an increase in salary to make a big difference in attracting qualified candidates for correctional officer jobs.

He is hopeful the governor’s office and General Assembly will be able to enact further changes next year.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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