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Overtime, salary problems at the center of Vaughn prison riot

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Employees of the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center were underpaid and overworked at the time of the prison riot earlier this year, according to report released today.

The preliminary report is the first in-depth look at the causes of the riot that led to the death of correctional officer Stephen Floyd and a 20-hour standoff with police. Gov. John Carney commissioned the report, and a state judge and retired federal prosecutor led the investigation.

The report found that long hours and low pay put significant mental and physical strain on staff. Among other factors, such as gang members living side by side, the staffing problems set the stage for the unsafe conditions that sparked the riot.

“With this combination of factors, the risks for burnout, apathy, and turnover are high, further straining already critically low staffing level,” said the report.

Officers routinely worked upwards of 80 hours per week, getting “frozen” at the end of their designated shift due to staffing shortages.

The report highlights how the State of Delaware is able to override how the union distributes overtime if it “fails to meet operational or security needs.”

“Although the excessive overtime is not necessarily at odds with the union negotiated overtime policy
currently in effect, it seems that the State is overly relying on overtime at the JTVCC to compensate for high rates of turnover and high numbers of vacancies,” said the report.

The Office of Auditor Accounts found that the state paid nearly $39 million in overtime costs in 2016 and part of 2017.

The report states that low starting salaries and a relative lack of raises likely contributed to the high rate of turnover.

The median annual salary for a correctional officer is $42,820, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Vaughn officers started at about $31,000 and didn’t reach $40,000 until they had 20 plus years experience.

Full report is available here: http://governor.delaware.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/24/2017/06/Independent-Review-Initial-Report-June-2-2017.pdf

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