Inmates at the largest state prison for men in Delaware took four corrections department workers and fellow prisoners hostage Wednesday in a stand-off with authorities that had yet to be resolved more than 18 hours later on Thursday morning, forcing prisons across the state to enter lockdown.
By early Thursday morning, the state Department of Correction said two employees and 82Â inmates remained inside the seized prison block, though it was unclear how many were hostages as opposed to hostage-takers.
Throughout the standoff, two of the prison employees â one of whom had non-life threatening injuries â and 46 inmates had been released in four groups by the hostage-takers, who said their rebellion was a direct response to President âDonald Trump.â
âEverything that he did. All the things that heâs doing now,â they said during the second of twoÂ manifesto-like phone calls to a local newspaper. âWe know that the institution is going to change for the worse.â
The inmates demanded education âfirst and foremost,â a ârehabilitation program that works for everybodyâ and a comprehensive look at the prisonâs budget and spending, according to audio of the calls posted online by the News Journal in Wilmington, Del., located about 40 miles north of Smyrna, where the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center has been since 1971.
The prison is the largest adult male correctional facility in the state, housing about 2,500 minimum, medium and maximum security inmates, according to the Department of CorrectionÂ website. It is the landing place for people who have not yet been convicted of a crime and those who have been sentenced to death. Executions are carried out there, according to the website.
Inmate complaints about treatment within the prison, substandard medical care and poor record-keeping have increased in the past year, Stephen Hampton, an attorney from Dover who has represented prisoners in civil rights cases, told the Associated Press.
Rules prohibiting the commingling of pretrial inmates and those who have already been sentenced mean that detainees awaiting their day in court are locked up for much of the day, Hampton told the AP. These people do not have access to gyms or libraries and, Hampton said, there âgets to be a tremendous pressure on these inmates.â
Sometimes theyâll take a plea deal just to circumvent the restrictions, Hampton told the AP.
A former Vaughn inmate also called the News Journal amid the chaos of the hostage situation Wednesday and told the newspaper that the takeover was likely the result of unresolved tensions finally bubbling over. The News Journal did not identify him, but reported that he lived in Building C, the same area of the prison where the hostages were taken.
The former inmate told the News Journal that inside the prison, conditions are poor, inmates have limited access to education programs and issues with overcrowding mean even those who exhibit good behavior arenât able to be transferred to medium-security buildings.
âThey just got to the point where theyâre fed up,â he told the local newspaper. âIf DOC is worried about the officers and not their demands, if nothing changes, I guarantee there will be another hostage situation in a different building.â
At a news conference Wednesday evening, Delaware Gov. John Carney said the first priority was to ensure the safety of the corrections officers still trapped inside the prison. After that, âdialogue can occur,â said Robert Coupe, head of the stateâs Homeland Security Department.
Coupe said authorities had been communicating via radio with the hostage-takers throughout the 14-hour standoff and said that Building C has televisions where the inmates could be watching the news conference live.
His message to them was simple: âWe want to resolve this peacefully.â
âOnce this matter is resolved safely, then that will be the time to talk if the inmates want to talk about conditions, privileges, those types of things,â Coupe said, reported the AP.
Gov. Carney said he had spoken with the families of the hostages.
âAs you can imagine,â Carney said, âitâs been very difficult for them as well.â
Authorities said the disturbance began around 10:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, when correctional employees responded to a radio call for help from a fellow correctional officer inside Building C and were taken hostage,Â Delaware State Police spokesman Sgt. Richard Bratz said during a news conference.
One of those employees was releasedÂ at 2:25 p.m. Wednesday, reported the News Journal. Three hours later, eight inmates were released, and at 8 p.m. a second employee and 19 other inmates were let go.
Fourteen additional inmates were released from Building C at 12:30 a.m. Thursday, bringing the total number of released inmates to 46, according to statement from the Department of Correction.Â Eighty-two inmates remain inside, but was unclear how many of those are hostages. Building C holds more than 100Â inmates.
By its 18th hour, the hostage situation was gaining widespread attention, especially on social media, where people used the hashtag #VaughnRebellion to talk about the siege.
Catherine Simon, a Smyrna resident and the wife of a prison staff lieutenant, told the News Journal her husband emailed her about the takeover to tell her he was safe. There is fear, she told the local newspaper, among staff and their family members.
âItâs been a lot of Facebook messages, texts and phone calls to see if anyone has heard from this one or whether that one is OK,â Simon told the News Journal. âItâs really scary, and it doesnât seem like itâs going to be ending anytime soon.â
This story is developing and will be updated.Â