DOVER, Del. (AP) — After inmates seized four hostages and took control of a building at Delaware’s maximum-security prison in February, law enforcement officials dispatched a drone to monitor the situation.
The only problem was that the order came from one of three separate command posts, and no one had bothered to tell the warden, even though under Department of Correction policy he is the “ultimate commander” in the event of a major emergency and is in charge until the situation is resolved.
“The warden was unaware that it had been requested by the outside command post and at first threatened to shoot it down because he thought it was a news media drone,” said investigators who conducted an independent review of the deadly uprising at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.
But such confusion simply typified operations at the prison, which reviewers found to be dangerously overcrowded, critically understaffed, and poorly run and managed.
Many of the problems investigators found — including chronic staffing shortages, excessive use of overtime, and inadequate equipment — were noted more than a decade ago by a security task force appointed after a female counselor was taken hostage and raped before her assailant, a serial rapist, was shot to death by a tactical response officer.
“Independently, we found that those issues still exist. That obviously is troublesome,” said former U.S. Attorney Charles Oberly III, who led the review along with retired Family Court Judge William Chapman. “There is a replication of issues that apparently have not been adequately or fully dealt with in the last 12 years.”
According to a preliminary report released Friday, prison workers consider communication to be the top problem at the Vaugh prison. The report portrays stressed-out correctional officers as not knowing what is expected of them, a disconnect between shift supervisors and upper management, and confusion and anxiety among inmates who have no certainty about how they will be treated.
“They want consistency in enforcement of the rules,” said Oberly, adding that a lack of access to programs has led to idleness among inmates “that breeds all kinds of problems.”
The review also confirmed that there are no surveillance cameras inside the building where the February uprising occurred.
“While cameras may not have prevented the incident from occurring, they could have had a deterrent effect and could have provided additional information for post incident investigations had they been installed inside the housing unit,” investigators wrote.
Although it’s unclear whether gang members were involved in the riot, staff also told investigators that gang members were housed not only in the same cells in the building, but also in adjacent cells, “making communication and planning much easier.”
The report also noted frequent complaints from prison staff about a lack of regular training and the quality of the training that is provided.
Delaware State Police still are conducting a criminal investigation into the uprising, which set off a nearly 20-hour standoff during which correctional officer Steven Floyd was killed. The siege ended when tactical teams used a backhoe to breach the building and rescue a female counselor. Two other guards had been released earlier after being tormented and beaten by inmates.
In ordering a separate, independent review of security issues at Vaughn, Democratic Gov. John Carney had planned to wait until the criminal investigation was completed. He later changed his mind and ordered a preliminary report by June 1, allowing lawmakers to consider possible legislation to address prison issues before they adjourn the current legislative session July 1.
“We are committed to taking appropriate action that will enhance safety and security for Delaware’s correctional officers and inmates at Vaughn and at all of Delaware’s correctional facilities,” Carney said in a prepared statement Friday.
The reviewers submitted a list of 30 recommendations. The recommendations include developing a strategic plan and implementation process for the Department of Correction, improving communication, training and information sharing, and decreasing the inmate population or encouraging alternatives to incarceration.
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