Delaware ACLU examines February prison riots and cause [video]

 (Nichelle Polston/WHYY)

(Nichelle Polston/WHYY)

The American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware says the deadly hostage taking in February at a state prison was preventable.On Wednesday, officials presented to a group of community members at Central Presbyterian Church in Wilmington the link between overcrowded prisons and riots. Several illustrations showed that the state has too many people behind bars compared with neighboring states and far too many complaints about prison conditions.

Kathleen MacRae of the American Civil Liberties of Delaware also agreed that there are too many people in prison especially in the First Sate. She said the total population behind bars may have fueled the deadly hostage taking at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.

“I think that the legislature needs to be aware of the fact that Delaware incarcerates at twice the rate of the United States government and two to three times the rate of New Jersey. There’s no reason why we need to incarcerate at such a high rate to protect the community,” MacRae said.

ACLU officials presented several underlying causes of prison uprisings. At the top of the list were complaints by inmates.

“We didn’t realize until the National Lawyers Guild did the analysis that the rising complaints in the four months before February 1st and 2nd were so significant,” MacRae added.

MacRae also shared how inmates often complain about things such as inhumane prison conditions and instability within the chain of command. She painted a better picture of the growing complaints by inmates this year alone.

“Normally we get 450 to 500 complaints a year from prisoners across the system I would say that we have gotten that amount since February 1st and the incident at the James T Vaughn because of the retaliation that occurred and the crackdown the lock-down that occurred after Lt. Floyd was murdered,” MacRae said.

Muhammed Salaam, was one of many community members at the event. He said he’s been advocating for fair treatment of inmates for more than 30 years.

“As an advocate we want to identify the issues and make contact with those who we feel can be effective in changing conditions,” Salaam said. “My suggestion is that we established is a citizen reform advisory committee.”

The ACLU analysis comes a day after Governor John Carney promised to improve training and conditions at prisons and appoint a special assistant to oversee reform at the Department of Correction.

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