Delaware leaders present concerns for prison inmates

The Delaware Coalition of Prison Reform and Justice is making more demands. This time on behalf of inmates in the state correctional facilities after the death of a correctional officer in February.

Delaware Coalition leaders have a demand for state lawmakers:  investigate possible corruption with prison staff they believe are torturing inmates in the wake of an inmate prison takeover at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna. According to New Castle County Councilman Jea Street, the demands are simple.

“We are not asking. We are not urging. We are demanding that one, the United States Dept. of Justice intervene with a criminal investigation into the actions of the Delaware correction officers and officials,” Street said.

Rev. Chris Bullock and Richard Smith joined Street as he announced a number of demands at the Canaan Baptist Church on Friday. The coalition is asking for correctional officers to wear body cameras especially after hearing testimony from family members of inmates at Monday night’s Prison Town Hall.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“Collectively that leaves no question in our minds that mental and physical torture at a criminal level is taking place in the prison system,” Street added.

The state launched an immediate investigation into the death of Lt. Steven Floyd. The coalition has made requests for federal leaders to step in to review the case as well.

Now, letters have been sent to state lawmakers including Gov. John Carney to expand the investigation and consider the human rights of inmates who have reported heightened levels of mistreatment after the hostage incident at the Smyrna prison.

“We believe and we’re demanding that it is necessary to immediately transfer both correction officers and inmates at the Vaughn Correctional Center,” Street said.

Street also demanded that the prison population be reduced immediately releasing non-violent offenders, senior age offenders and offenders with serious terminal medical conditions.

There’s also a demand to form an impartial investigative task force with representatives from the governor’s office, the ACLU of Delaware and the Delaware Coalition of Prison Reform and Justice. Street explained that the group would have the authority to schedule random visits to the prison and interview inmates spontaneously.

The group also wants the installation of high tech surveillance equipment to cover the entire prison campus leaving no room for misconduct to happen or be covered up.

Rev. Bullock said Attorney Steve Hampton who represents many of the Vaughn inmates has recently joined the coalition and support these demands.

Bullock is among many people who continue to focus on prison reform. He said his mission began 12 years ago when the group questioned the lack of medical care in the prisons. Floyd’s death has re-energized officials even more.

“It’s not political, it’s personal, families are hurting,” said Bullock, a former elected official who was the first black president of New Castle County Council. He said the coalition has a legislative agenda brewing but it’s too early to share details.

“Most politicians are concerned about their next election and not the next generation. They’ll say whatever they need to say to get elected but what do you do when you get into office and we want to hold folks accountable,” Bullock said.

In the meantime, a protest regarding these demands will take place in Dover on April 6th. Richard Smith who leads the NAACP Bear branch said the goal is take busloads of people to Legislative Hall to call for change.

“Now is the time to stop the Delaware way,” Smith said.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal