Report: Delaware Department of Correction making strides in safety improvements

 (Licensed under Creative Commons)

(Licensed under Creative Commons)

This week the state released an interim report that finds the Delaware Department of Correction is making progress nearly a year after an officer was killed in a prison takeover by inmates.

On Feb 1, 2017 inmates in one section of the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center held a handful of prison staff hostage and made demands. During the 20-hour standoff, some guards were released. The incident claimed the life of Lt. Stephen Floyd.

Floyd’s death sparked not only an immediate investigation, but also spurred 41 recommendations to be implemented at that facility. Installing cameras have been a top priority since the  incident, said special assistant Claire DeMatteis, who helped lead an independent review of the prison. She produced the six-month interim report after several concerns were highlighted and listed to be addressed.

“We’re ahead of schedule. We do install cameras in [one] building a month, so the project will take several months, but there’s no more question of if there will be cameras installed at James T. Vaughn. The cameras are being installed,” DeMatteis said. There are a total of nine buildings that will be under strong surveillance once the project is completed. The exact number of cameras installed is being withheld for security reasons.

Officials have taken it a step further to install cameras in prison facilities in Wilmington and Georgetown, where there were known security gaps there too, according to DeMatteis.

As for services for inmates, initiatives are underway to add a culinary arts program and more GED classes at the prison. The DOC is also bringing back several faith-based and nonprofit groups to offer programs and services for inmates.

“Step by step, we’re improving programs and services for inmates. It’s going to take additional time,” DeMatteis said.

DeMatteis said the overall goal is safety and improved services for everyone. Starting next week, at least 1,200 officers will begin a new training course on everything from risk management to de-escalation and communications skills.

“What happened to their brother officer being slain, motivated officers up and down the chain of command and certainly in leadership to make sure that never happens again. It’s a very sad incident and yet motivating incident,” DeMatteis said.

DeMatteis will issue another progress report in July. Governor John Carney appointed DeMatteis to work alongside Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps in strengthening communication and safety at the Smyrna prison.

“We are serious about implementing the recommendations of the Independent Review, and improving safety and security across our correctional system,” said Gov. Carney.

“Since receiving the Independent Review, we have moved quickly to take action and implement the review team’s recommendations,” Phelps said. “Addressing the challenges we face will require our focus and attention over the long-term.”

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

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.