Three correctional officers injured at Vaughn prison

The James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna . (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

SMYRNA — Department of Correction officials confirmed that three correctional officers were injured at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center (JTVCC) in Smyrna on Monday.

“Three officers suffered injuries during an incident involving an inmate at JTVCC,” said DOC spokeswoman Jayme Gravell. “We cannot share additional information at this time.”

According to the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware (COAD), the injuries stemmed from a “series of events.”

In the first “incident,” an inmate being returned to their cell after receiving medical treatment became disorderly and a correctional officer was injured in an attempt to get the inmate to cooperate. A medical evaluation of the inmate was performed and a cell inspection revealed that he had not taken his prescribed medication, said COAD.

The “Quick Response Team” was dispatched to, once again, escort the inmate to his cell. Once in the cell, the inmate charged the officers, threw punches, kicks and swung his arms. During the struggle one officer dislocated his shoulder and another — who required treatment off-site afterward — sustained a back injury in an effort to secure the inmate.

COAD said there were several reports of disorderly inmate behavior at JTVCC during the preceding weekend as well.

“The situation in the DOC has not improved since the murder of Lt. Steven Floyd,” said COAD President Geoff Klopp. “We are still understaffed. We are still freezing officers in place and working long hours to the point of exhaustion. We are still unable to guarantee the safety of staff and inmates in our institutions. Slow progress — if any at all — has been made in recruiting, hiring, training and keeping corrections officers.

“The COAD and our members are very concerned that we have returned to the days where the administration tells us ‘just be patient. Wait. We are working on it.’ Well, while they “work on it”, our officers are being injured, overworked and underpaid. Something has to change.”

According to the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware’s (COAD) press releases, nearly a half dozen inmate/correctional officer altercations have occurred at several of the state’s prisons since the deadly inmate riot on Feb. 1 at JTVCC. Six days after the riot, a correctional officer suffered a laceration on their nose and forehead and facial bruising in an incident at the same prison. In May, a correctional officer suffered a fractured knee and neck scratches in an inmate altercation at the Central Violation of Probation Center in Smyrna.

Gov. John Carney’s office often touts the 22-percent increase in starting officer pay and increased pay for officers across experience levels as a positive change since the Feb. 1 riot that is hoped to drive long-term recruitment and retention. The starting salary, increased this financial year to $40,000, is set to increase again in fiscal year 2019 to $43,000.

Other changes made by the current administration include the creation of a new Labor-Management committee to study ways to help recruit and retain officers; decrease the use of mandatory overtime; a $1.3 million investment in new equipment to help officers more safely respond to violent incidents; and a $2 million investment in new cameras purchased for JTVCC.

However, Claire DeMatteis, the special assistant appointed by Gov. John Carney to spearhead prison reform in the wake of the Feb. 1 riot, noted in early October that under staffing remains a complicated issue.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat this: We have a long way to go with filling vacancies and getting ahead of the upcoming retirements,” Ms. DeMatteis said at the time. “It’s going to be a serious challenge, but everyone is focused on it.”

In early September the DOC reported there were 264 vacant correctional officer positions. COAD believes this number to be much higher.

“The DOC just says there are 270 vacancies, but it’s incorrect based on the amount of overtime we work on a weekly basis,” Klopp said in September. “We’re working between 13,000 and 15,000 hours of overtime per week across the state — so we estimate the actual number of vacancies to be closer to 400.”

The high rate at which the DOC is losing officers stacked against the slow rate of replacement is setting the stage for another tragic incident, Mr. Klopp said.

“When the General Assembly returns in January, significant changes must occur,” he added. “We can’t wait for another prison uprising or staff murder to change the status quo in Delaware’s corrections system.

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