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Trump, education top inmates’ reasons for hostage situation

The hostage situation drew dozens of officers and law enforcement vehicles to the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center and prompted a statewide lockdown of all prisons


Emergency vehicles drive into the Vaughn Correctional Center near Smyrna, Del., where all Delaware prisons went on lockdown late Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017.

Suchat Pederson/The Wilmington News-Journal via AP

By Randall Chase
Associated Press

SMYRNA, Del. — Inmates at a Delaware prison took five corrections department workers hostage Wednesday, a move the inmates told a local newspaper was due to concerns about their treatment and the leadership of the United States.

The hostage situation drew dozens of officers and law enforcement vehicles to the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna and prompted a statewide lockdown of all prisons. One hostage was released Wednesday afternoon, but four remained in custody and negotiations were ongoing as the evening stretched on, authorities said.

A preliminary investigation suggests the incident began around 10:30 a.m. when a correctional officer inside Building C, which houses over 100 inmates, radioed for immediate assistance, Delaware State Police spokesman Sgt. Richard Bratz said at a news conference. Other officers responded to help, and five Department of Corrections employees were taken hostage.

Later, inmates reached out to The News Journal in Wilmington in two phone calls to explain their actions and make demands. Prisoners funneled the calls to the paper with the help of one inmate’s fiancee and another person’s mother. The mother told the paper her son was among the hostages.

In that call, an inmate said their reasons “for doing what we’re doing” included “Donald Trump. Everything that he did. All the things that he’s doing now. We know that the institution is going to change for the worse.”

That caller said education for prisoners was the inmates’ priority. They also said they want effective rehabilitation for all prisoners and information about how money is allocated to prisons.

Bratz did not address the phone calls during the news conference or give details about negotiations, which he said were ongoing. He did not take questions.

“We are doing everything we can to ensure the safety of everyone involved and using all of our available resources,” he said.

The inmates released one hostage around 2:40 p.m., and that person was taken by ambulance to a hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening, Bratz said. Authorities don’t know whether anyone else has been injured, he said.

Bratz did not say how much of the prison, which houses about 2,500 inmates, was involved in the incident. But Bruce Rogers, counsel for the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware, told The Associated Press Building C was under the inmates’ control.

Rogers described the hostages as four guards and one counselor. He said he’d been briefed on the situation by the union president, who was talking to officials at the scene.

Video from above the prison Wednesday afternoon showed uniformed officers gathered in two groups along fences near an entrance to the prison. Later, video showed several people surrounding a stretcher and running as they pushed it across the compound. People could be seen standing near a set of doors with an empty stretcher and wheelchair.

A Corrections Department spokeswoman said firefighters were called to the scene after reports of smoke and were being held on standby.

According to the department’s website, the prison is Delaware’s largest correctional facility for men. It houses minimum, medium, and maximum security inmates, and also houses Kent County detainees awaiting trial. It was the site of the state’s death row and where executions were carried out. The prison opened in 1971.

In 2004, an inmate raped a counselor and took her hostage for nearly seven hours at the Smyrna prison, according to an Associated Press report at the time. A department sharpshooter later shot and killed 45-year-old Scott Miller, according to the report, ending the standoff.

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An inmate attacked a deputy who took the weapon he used to stab another inmate; two additional inmates then piled onto the deputy
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