Delaware group wants feds to investigate prison hostage situation [video]

 Rev. Christopher Bullock holds a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking for a federal investigation into Delaware prisons. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Rev. Christopher Bullock holds a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking for a federal investigation into Delaware prisons. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

A prison reform group is calling for a deeper probe into the Vaughn Correctional Center incident.

The Delaware Coalition of Prison Reform and Justice joined the ACLU in a letter asking the federal Department of Justice to investigate the hostage siege at Vaughn Correctional Center that left one correctional officer dead.

“We do not feel the state can investigate itself,” said Rev. Christopher Bullock, chairman of the Delaware Coalition of Prison Reform and Justice. The group is calling for federal investigators to look into the incident earlier this month which stretched over two days and resulted in the death of Lt. Steven Floyd.

“We agree that correction officers deserve a higher base pay and wage increase,” Bullock said. “We also want more funding for educational, vocational and treatment programs. A fair and balanced distribution of resources only makes sense.”

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Delaware State Police are currently investigating the hostage siege. Once that effort is completed, Gov. John Carney has appointed a group led by former Supreme Court Justice Henry DuPont Ridgley and Judge William L. Chapman, Jr. to conduct a review. Rev. Bullock said that group wouldn’t move fast enough to create solutions. He also doesn’t believe the state can investigate itself with transparency. “We don’t believe you can open up a new door with an old key,” Bullock said. “We just don’t believe, based on past history, that we can get transparency and get to the bottom of it.”

Michael Bartley spent more than 15 years in Vaughn Correction Center. He was released in January 2016. He’s concerned about the health of inmates still their and is supporting the call for a federal investigation. “We need to step up to the plate in Delaware and try to make it a better place, a safer place for the officers and also for the inmates as they try to come home and be productive members of society.”

On Thursday, members of the state Senate Labor Committee heard testimony from correction officers and others about conditions in the prison. Geoffrey Klopp, head of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware said the hearing could be the first step to improving working conditions for prison staff in the state. “We do a job that a lot of folks don’t want to do and we need to be compensated fairly,” Klopp said.

Earlier this week, state Senator David Lawson, R- Marydel, proposed a plan to take some of the money currently being used to pay officers for overtime and use that to increase base pay for correctional officers.

The plan would grow staff by 180 new recruits, increase the starting salary of new corrections officers to $37,000 and increase pay for everyone currently in the Department of Correction by $4,000— a plan that would cost around $15 million, and save the state about $7 million.

Department of Corrections Commissioner Perry Phelps said, “We will welcome any ideas Senator Lawson and the General Assembly may have which would result in DOC Correctional Officers receiving competitive and comparable salaries.”

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