Three assaults reported in Delaware prisons within two days

DOVER — Three separate assaults on correctional officers took place over the course of two days, confirmed the Delaware Department of Correction.

“Correctional officers perform a dangerous job and oftentimes encounter inmates with mental illness and behavioral challenges,” Deputy Commissioner Alan Grinstead said in a statement. “We offer interpersonal communication training to our officers so they know how to de-escalate volatile situations such as these. We’re proud of our officers who put themselves in harm’s way and do their best to keep everyone inside the prison walls safe.”

The first assault occurred at Sussex Correctional Institution on Tuesday when a “verbally abusive” inmate punched an officer in the chest. Neither the inmate nor the officer suffered serious injury, said the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware.

The second assault, also on Tuesday, was reported at Baylor Women’s Correctional Institution when a female inmate also punched a correctional officer in the chest. The officer sustained a mild injury and sought medical attention.

The third assault was reported on Wednesday when a “high-security” inmate at James T. Vaughn Correction Center struck an officer in the face while trying to wriggle free from “waist chain restraints.” The officer who was struck sustained facial, knee and wrist injuries in the confrontation. COAD president Geoff Klopp blasted the DOC’s prison reform efforts and called on state leadership to address systemic ills in the state’s prisons.

“Three assaults in such a short period of time sends one clear message: the current system of corrections is broken and must be fixed before someone else is killed or maimed,” said Mr. Klopp. “Simply sweeping the problems off the front page of the newspapers and hoping things hold together until after the election only further endangers the lives of corrections officers. I ask again of our elected and appointed officials: what will it take to solve the issues of substandard pay, no career path, an inferior retirement, pathetic recruitment and retention? If another officer or civilian is seriously injured or murdered, 62 members of the General Assembly, the attorney general, the lieutenant governor, the governor and the judiciary all bear responsibility. Where does it end?”

Recruitment

Although the DOC celebrated its largest Correctional Employee Initial Training academy class in five years back in April with 51 cadets, Mr. Klopp claims enrollment has sagged since. The COAD notes that there are 40 cadets currently in the academy that won’t graduate until October, and only 38 invitation letters to the next academy class (starting early next month) have been sent out.

Last month Gov. John Carney and other state officials championed the completion of a year-long reform process. They claimed to have addressed, at some level, 40 of 41 key recommendations made by an independent review team after the deadly inmate uprising at Vaughn prison last year. Reducing mandatory overtime for an overworked and understaffed team of correctional officers is the one recommendation they said remained outstanding.

As of last month, the DOC reported carrying 227 vacant correctional officer positions statewide. However, a recently released staffing analysis at Vaughn prison recommended adding 137 more officers — bringing the total vacancy number up to 364. Using the current demand for overtime at state prisons, Mr. Klopp believes that more than 450 vacancies is more accurate.

Mr. Klopp maintains that the “core issue” is correctional officers’ low starting salary — now $43,000 per year plus a $3,000 sign on bonus. A higher salary would lead to more applicants and, ultimately, to a fully staffed prison with a reduced need for overtime shifts, he says.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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