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Prison guards dig in for union negotiations with state

Licensed under Wikimedia Commons, Flickr user trconrad2001
An aerial photo of James T. Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, the site of a Feb. 1 hostage crisis that left one correctional officer dead.

Delaware correctional officers are giving politicians a month and a half to back a list of demands their union created in response to a hostage standoff last month that left one of their own dead.

The Correctional Officers Association of Delaware is calling for an overhaul to guards’ salaries, extra pay supplements and for the state to end an agreement with the ACLU over the use of solitary confinement.

In the weeks following the hostage crisis at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, union members have called the events that led to the death of guard Steven Floyd “an absolute failure of leadership”

They say guards need monthly training to keep prisons safe, as well as more money to attract better applicants.

That includes a new $500 attendance bonus, increasing the current hazard duty pay by nearly $2,000 a year and requiring the state to clean officers’ uniforms.

Salaries for correctional officers begin around $32,000 without factoring in mandatory overtime shifts due to chronic understaffing.

Across the U.S., average salaries for prison guards working for the state top $45,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A lawyer for the union didn’t immediately return a questions regarding how much these proposals would cost taxpayers.

The group wants a complete and public commitment from Gov. John Carney (D), Attorney General Matt Denn (D) and state lawmakers by May 1 to ensure any legislative changes pass by the end of session at the end of June.

Carney announced a plan Monday to invest in new security equipment, hire more guards and look at tweaking their pay scales. 

He also immediately ordered the start of an independent review that had initially been waiting on the completion of a criminal investigation by state police.

An initial batch of recommendations is due to the General Assembly by June 1.

Geoff Klopp, who leads the union, said his group is ready to bankroll its own study of the crisis if they don’t think the review “…is going in the proper direction,” shortly after it was announced last month.

As of the beginning of March, 25 guards at Vaughn have either resigned or retired. 29 medical contractors have also left.

Negotiations between the union and the state will begin soon. Any agreement must be reached by Dec. 1.

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