SMYRNA, Del. — Delaware Governor John Carney signed an executive order on Feb. 14, appointing retired Delaware Supreme Court Justice Henry duPont Ridgely and retired Family Court Judge William L. Chapman Jr. to lead an independent review of the Feb. 1 hostage incident at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna. The prison standoff resulted in the death of one correctional officer and was initiated by inmates who were unhappy with the prison’s living conditions, citing lack of education and rehabilitative programs as well as mistreatment.
Gov. Carney said in a statement that Delaware officials will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to uncover exactly what happened during the standoff and to prevent any future violent events. The review will begin following the completion of the Delaware State Police criminal investigation into the death of correctional officer Lieutenant Steven Floyd.
Ridgely and Chapman Jr. are charged with reviewing the events surrounding the hostage incident as they relate to security issues at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center and making recommendations to assure the safety and security of employees and inmates at the facility. The two will receive the full cooperation of the Delaware Department of Correction (DOC) and the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, according to a statement from Gov. Carney.
Ridgely said in a statement that the two will focus both on understanding how the event occurred and producing “meaningful recommendations that would make Delaware’s correctional facilities more secure and hopefully prevent this type of incident from happening again.”
The DOC already operates under task force-developed recommendations delivered in February 2005 aimed at improving safety within its correctional facilities. Those recommendations, also prompted by inmate-on-staff violence that resulted in the death of a staff member, included immediately hiring to fill vacant positions to address staffing shortages, improving communication systems and equipment, increasing staff at key areas within the facility, integrating additional security cameras and addressing critical design flaws, among others.
Responding to the 2005 recommendations, the DOC in 2006 signed a commitment to improve inmate medical services and also increased staffing levels and significantly upgraded its communications system in 2012. However, the News Journal Online reported that a large number of correctional officers have either resigned or submitted for early retirement since this most recent violent incident, forcing the department to rely on newly graduated correctional officers.