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Hostage siege at Delaware state prison ends with one guard dead

by Tess Owen
Feb 2 2017, 3:16pm

A daylong hostage situation at a Delaware state prison ended early Thursday morning after police breached the building and found one prison guard dead and another injured. On calls to a local paper as the event unfolded, inmates cited demands for better treatment, and said they feared Donald Trump’s policies would make conditions worse.

The deadly siege at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, 15 miles north of the state capital Dover, began Wednesday morning, WFMZ-TV reported, when a corrections officer radioed for help with a “major disturbance” at a building housing up to 150 inmates. The state facility comprises several buildings and houses minimum-, medium-, maximum-security inmates, as well as death row inmates.

On Wednesday afternoon, the local News Journal said it received two phone calls from inmates communicating demands from hostage-takers in terms of a manifesto. Inmates had reportedly used “sharp objects” to seize control of the building, taking three guards and one counselor hostage at one point, the AP reported.

A News Journal reporter said they spoke to several inmates who passed the phone around, as well as to the prison therapist. One inmate reportedly explained that “a cop” had been stabbed. “Listen, this is what’s going on,” another inmate told the reporter. “We’re done playing games, we’re on the fucking phone, we’re trying to explain the reasons for doing what we’re doing.”

“Donald Trump,” the inmate continued. “Everything that he did. All the things that he’s doing now. We know that the institution is going to change for the worse.”

The inmate referenced abusive treatment endured by inmates at the hands of corrections officers, and said they wanted better education, rehabilitation programs, and transparency for allocation of prison funding, the News Journal reported. “If they keep on playing games, it’s going to get ugly,” an inmate said.

Delaware has the fifth-highest rate of overcrowding in the country, according to a CBS analysis of federal data, and the third-highest percentage of inmates in solitary confinement. The state’s prisons have made some improvements in recent years. In 2013, the Justice Department said that Delaware had successfully implemented recommended reforms in its prisons’ mental health and healthcare services, after an investigation found “unlawful” conditions, particularly at Vaughn prison.

The incident this week at Vaughn follows a turbulent period in the nation’s correctional facilities, most notably a prisoner strike in September that involved at least 29 prisons across 12 states, starting in Alabama. It’s Going Down, a blog that worked closely with prison rights activists, framed Vaughn as a continuation of the strikes, where inmates have demanded an end to “slave labor” working conditions, overcrowding, and improved safety, among other things.