Gov. Carney announces detail of independent prison review

(Zoë Read/WHYY)

(Zoë Read/WHYY)

Gov. John Carney, D-Delaware, announced plans for an independent review on the hostage incident at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna almost two weeks ago that led to the death of Lt. Steven Floyd.

Former Supreme Court Justice Henry DuPont Ridgley and Judge William L. Chapman, Jr. will conduct the review, Carney announced Tuesday. He said the pair are well-respected judges, who are independent thinkers with the analytical skills necessary for the job.

“We know correctional officers accept the risk of doing a dangerous jobs for the people of Delaware, they do it every day and 24 hours a day,” Carney said. “Our job, my job, is to do everything we can to ensure their safety at work and the security of our correction institutions. We owe that to Lt. Floyd, his family and all our correctional employees.”

The Governor said the review, which will begin after a Delaware State Police criminal investigation is complete, will focus on the security of the prison, and the whys and how’s of the incident.

Ridgley and Chapman will release their findings and recommendations for improved security by June 1st, and Carney will work with the General Assembly to take appropriate action by June 30th—the deadline for a state budget.

“This review is about getting to the bottom of what happened at the Vaughn Correctional Center, improving security at Delaware’s correctional facilities so they are safe as reasonably possible for Delaware correctional employees,” Ridgley said.

“We will take a full and thorough look at what happened on February 1st and February 2nd, we will focus this review on what happened and what led to this incident on those dates. This was a tragedy and it’s an incident that deserves a thorough and careful review, which we will undertake seriously, and we will act with urgency to give a preliminary report by June 1st.”

In addition to the criminal investigation and independent review, the Department of Correction also is doing its own internal affairs review. Carney said he has full confidence in the two judges, and believes the three reviews will be sufficient and well-rounded.

Carney said he will leave no stone unturned to prevent a similar incident from happening in the future.

“I go to bed every night thinking about the security of those individuals that go into those institutions, really that stand between us and folks that would do us harm, and worry they have appropriate security measures in place,” he said.

Geoff Klopp, the president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware, said he’ll meet with the Governor’s Chief of Staff to discuss the incident.

He said the union is prepared to do its own investigation. Union members are not satisfied with the other investigations in place.

“I just want to make sure we get to the right people to get to the right questions and in the investigation we rely more upon the information from correctional officers, and not a bunch of people who have never been in a correctional facility,” Klopp said.

“The Carney administration needs to make sure the correctional officers union is involved in the process and weigh heavily on our suggestions. We’re the ones who spend time with the inmates. We know the problems.”

Carney said he won’t make any assumptions on what the review will find—but some correctional officers suggest staffing size is a key issue at the correctional facility. The prison is understaffed, and correctional officers work overtime to make up for the difference.

Since the incident, 17 correctional officers have left their jobs. Carney wouldn’t comment on that, but said he suspects staffing would one of several things addressed during the review.

Klopp said correctional officers are seeking other job opportunities because they’re not paid enough for the risk involved. He blames former Governor Jack Markell for keeping salaries low and for relying on overtime hours to save money. Klopp said changes must be made—because the correctional facility is at risk of closing if there aren’t enough officers.

Klopp also said the Carney administration needs to be more active in procuring the safety of several correctional officers who were on an inmates’ hit list, which was reportedly found during the initial investigation.

Several of the inmates and their relatives have expressed concern the inmates are mistreated in the prison. However, Klopp said Tuesday the public also needs to be aware of how prisons operate.

“We have a building at James Vaughn, its S1 building — there’s 200 lifers there…we don’t have any problem out of these guys, they have their own key to their cell door and let themselves in and out,” he said. “The perception we’re just locking all these people up is wrong and the public needs to needs to be educated on what’s going on in their as well.”

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