Final Vaughn uprising report: slain correctional officer warned of potential trouble
The final report of an independent review of February's deadly prison standoff at Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna says Lt. Steven Floyd, who was killed in the uprising, asked that certain inmates be moved out of Building C.
According to the report, his January 20th request was not heeded and just weeks later Floyd was killed during an nearly 20 hour hostage situation in Building C.
"Most unfortunately, the Independent Review Team believes that had the request for the removal of certain inmates from the C-Building—made on January 20, 2017 by the very correctional officer who was killed during the incident that began on February 1, 2017—been taken more seriously and carried out, the incident and the resulting death may not have occurred," said the report.
That information was just one of the conclusions reached in the 159-page report produced by a group led by former U.S. Attorney Charles Oberly III and retired Judge William Chapman. The reports was released publicly Friday. Gov. John Carney asked for the independent review earlier this year and received a preliminary report in June.
This final report says conditions at Vaughn created an environment in which an incident like the February uprising "would have likely occurred at some point" at the facility.
"Conditions at the JTVCC had deteriorated to the point that there was unrest among inmates, and distrust between inmates and correctional officers, as well as between correctional officers and JTVCC administrators. Factors giving rise to this unrest included adverse working conditions for the correctional officers, who continue to feel unappreciated by the administration, inconsistently implemented rules and regulations, an inmate grievance procedure deemed unfair, a distrusted medical/mental health system, and a real lack of morale permeating the line officers," according to the report.
Gov. John Carney (D) calls the lack of action by the prison’s upper management to address the tensions between inmates and officers “troubling.” He adds the report highlights a number of other issues that need to be addressed.
“It’s a long list of things and are things that we need to put our shoulder to and really make a difference if we’re going to create an environment where our correctional officers can be safe and where we have a better chance of having inmates who serve their time and are able to reenter the society in a more productive way,” said Carney answering reporters questions about the report Friday.
The Carney administration has taken steps to address some of the issues cited in the independent review since receiving group's preliminary report.
The correctional officers union and Carney also agreed to increase starting salaries for correctional officers to $40,000 in the 2018 fiscal year and to $43,000 in the 2019 fiscal year, with similar increases based on experience. Lawmakers approved $16 million in funding for those increases. Carney and lawmakers also set aside over $4 million in the 2018 budget to hire 50 additional officers at Vaughn, 25 more at Baylor Women's Correctional Institution and purchase new cameras at Vaughn.
A labor-management committee has been created to study ways to improve officer recruitment and retention and lower the use of mandatory overtime. It will also look implementing 12-hour shifts, and revisiting the 'freeze' policy.
And Carney has appointed Claire DeMatteis, former senior counsel to Joe Biden during his time in the U.S. Senate, to serve as a temporary special assistant to the governor at Department of Correction. She'll oversee reform of management practices and training and push for a cultural turnaround.
The final report also highlights inmates frustration with educational and vocational programs being cut. Some staff members say they believe the program reductions stem from from budget cuts while others blame the previous warden.
Oberly says both guards and inmate want these programs.
“Guards and inmates said 'give us something to do. Don’t have us just sit here 23 hours a day without anything to do.' And we need to have those kind of programs in place if we’re going to look at this in a manner that’s for rehabilitation and public safety,” said Oberly.
Oberly adds that while inmate programs aren’t popular with the public or lawmakers, most offenders will eventually be released. And they’ll continue to commit crimes unless they have other opportunities.
The criminal investigation into the Vaughn uprising is not yet complete, but the state Attorney General's Office indicated recently it hoped to bring an indictment to New Castle County grand jury soon. The report says the ongoing criminal investigation limited the scope of its work examining the incident.