Prison security concerns unheeded before deadly riot

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Delaware prison administrators dismissed warnings of trouble brewing at the state’s maximum-security prison in the days leading up to a deadly inmate uprising and hostage-taking, independent investigators said in a report released Friday.

The dismissal of the security warnings at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna was indicative of an overcrowded, understaffed facility plagued by mismanagement, a lack of communication, a culture of negativity, and adversarial relationships among prison staff, administrators and inmates, according to the independent review ordered by Gov. John Carney.

“A lot of things have to do with leadership, communications and culture,” said Carney, who nevertheless expressed confidence in the leadership of Department of Correction Commissioner Perry Phelps.

Inmates seized a housing unit on Feb. 1 and took several prison workers hostage, setting off a standoff lasting nearly 20 hours. Correctional officer Steven Floyd was killed before authorities used a backhoe to breach a wall and rescue a female counselor. Two other guards also taken hostage had been released earlier after being tormented and beaten by inmates.

The February uprising was preceded by a Jan. 15 incident in which some inmates in the same building refused to return to their cells after recreation time until they were allowed to speak with a supervisor about housing conditions. After that incident, some correctional officers — including Floyd — told supervisors that the instigators should be moved to another building for security reasons. The request was dismissed by higher-ranking officials.

Former U.S. Attorney and state attorney general Charles Oberly III, who helped lead the review, said that if Floyd’s warnings had been heeded, he might still be alive.

“There was a breakdown in communications,” said Oberly, warning that no matter what policy changes are implemented, there is no guarantee a similar incident won’t happen.

“Incidents can occur regardless of what the state does because prisons are dangerous places,” he said.

Investigators said the February uprising could have occurred elsewhere at the Vaughn prison, but the unique circumstances in Building C, which housed a volatile mix of inmates moving down from maximum to medium security, and inmates moving up from medium to maximum security, “hastened the inevitable.”

A criminal investigation into the uprising and Floyd’s death continues. Authorities said in early August that they…

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