17 prison staff members quit since siege at Delaware prison

WILMINGTON, DEL. - A "plethora" of correctional officers have resigned or announced their resignation from employment at a Delaware prison since a Feb. 1 standoff there took the life of a prison employee, corrections officials said Monday.

A total of eight officers have quit, with three leaving James T. Vaughn Correctional Center immediately, said Jayme Gravell, spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Correction.

Six more have filed paperwork for early retirement in 2017, and one of those has already left the job, she said. Two additional officers who work at other Department of Correction prisons announced their retirement since the standoff.

"We don't have enough staff and people don't feel safe coming to work," said Geoff Klopp, president of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware union.

Additionally, a teacher employed by the Department of Education who taught prisoners at Vaughn is retiring, Gravell said.

The prison will be able to fill the job vacancies with officers who have recently graduated from a nine-week correctional officer training program, Gravell said.

"We just graduated 39 officers last week, and on March 17 we'll have up to 40 more officers," she said.

The prison system has no choice but to rely on rookie officers, Klopp said. He questioned the sustainability of the strategy, stating that 57% of new hires quit within three years.

The way to prevent future resignations, he said, is to raise salaries for correctional officers, who he noted are "professionals" who often deal with mentally ill people.

"When you start at $32,000 and a Lewes (Del.) town cop starts at $48,000, you tell me where you're going to go work," he said.

Correctional officers' total pay can be significantly higher with the addition of overtime.

The recent separations come nearly two weeks after prisoners took over Building C at Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, Del., in a siege that lasted 18 hours. Details about the attack are still unclear as the Department of Correction has released little information.

Lt. Steven Floyd Sr., a correctional officer, died from trauma while being held hostage inside the building, state police said, but have not released additional details.

Prisoners at the time of the uprising called it a rebellion, and demanded a litany of prison reforms.

All 120 inmates housed within Building C, which is used to transition men between security levels at the prison, are considered suspects in an ongoing investigation, according to most recent updates from state investigators.

Five days after the standoff, Department of Correction emergency response teams were deployed to handle various "incidents"  that occurred at Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington, Gravell said. No officers were reported injured there, she said.

The following day, an officer at Vaughn was struck in the face by an inmate awaiting trial, Department of Correction officials said.

A total of 405 assaults or fights occurred at Delaware's five correctional facilities during the 2016 fiscal year, Gravell said. Of those, 57 were committed against a security staff member, but none resulted in a serious injury.

Sufficient staffing levels is something the state prison system has struggled with, she said. But when pressed whether recent assaults were a result of too few officers, she said she would have to examine additional data.

Klopp, by contrast, stated unequivocally that a larger staff wards off assaults. More officers would have prevented the siege at Vaughn, he said.

"It's a show of force. If there are six of us standing there and you got a beef with one guy, you're not going to jump on that guy," he said. "But if there are just two or three, then you might think about it."

USA TODAY Network


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