Delaware correctional officers speak out in documentary

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Following February’s deadly prison riot at Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware, the correction officers union is producing a documentary allowing guards to tell their story.

“The job the job that we do is one of the most, if not the most dangerous job,” said correctional officer Nicole Downing in a preview of the documentary posted online. “Hidden in Plain Sight” is a rare look inside Delaware’s prisons, told by those who work there.

The video is an unusual way for correctional officers to present their point of view.  The guards are forbidden by state law to speak to the media and thus, can’t present their point of view to the public.

People like correctional officer Angelina Deallie. “We knew it was coming. It was classic, textbook. There were guys put in that building, free roaming with other inmates that should have never had contact with other people at all, period,” Deallie said. “Life became very real to us that day, because all the things that we thought could never happen, happened that day.”

That day was February 1st, when inmates took control of the C- building at Vaughn Correctional, holding both guards and other inmates hostage. The siege, which resulted in the death of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd, was finally resolved nearly 20 hours later.

In the following weeks and months, lots of questions have been asked about conditions inside Delaware prisons. The people most familiar with the answers to those questions, correctional officers, are rarely- if ever- allowed to talk about it with the press. To get around that, the officers union, lead by union president Geoff Klopp is working on a documentary to tell their side of the story.

“The public doesn’t know what a correctional officer does, you guys just don’t know,” Klopp said. “People say why do you need money, why do you need this, why do you need that? we need to show you guys what our job really is.”

In addition to shining light on that deadly February day, union leaders hope the documentary introduces the public to correctional officers in a more personal way.

“We don’t get the public interaction that a trooper or a nurse or a paramedic does, because all of our work is done behind a fence. Those guys, you get to interact with the public on occasion, and people get a better understanding of their job, ultimately, it’s our job to communicate to the public exactly what we’re doing,” Klopp said.

It also puts a human face on the difficulties correctional officers like retired CO Terry Jelliffe face behind bars. “Until you get the jails properly manned, inmates aren’t going to get what they need, officers don’t have the safety and security to provide what they need.”

“To only give us $32,000 a year for this type of work is a slap in the face, it’s disappointing because we’re dealing with criminals on every level,” Downing said.

To ease the concerns about pay, earlier this month the state announced a plan to increase starting pay for CO’s by 22 percent over two years, from $33,000 to $43,000 by Fiscal Year 2019. Union leaders call it a good first step.

“We can’t get people to apply to the job with the salary the way it is, in some institutions, 60 percent of our daily operational needs are overtime, and that’s not going to change for a couple months as we start the process moving forward,” Klopp said.

Union leaders aren’t sure when the documentary will be finished and released, but their hoping it will be an informative and effective tool to help improve conditions behind bars.

“Our goal is to show you just how difficult our job is of managing the people that are incarcerated that nobody wants to really deal with. It’s going to be good for everybody.”

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