SMYRNA, Del. — Inmates at a Delaware prison took four 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 and another was released hours later, leaving authorities negotiating into the evening for the last two being held.
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. Other officers responded to help, and the employees were taken hostage, he said.
Bratz initially said five employees were taken hostage, but authorities at a later news conference said the number had been revised to four.
Robert Coupe, secretary of the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said 27 inmates also had left the building over the course of the evening.
Authorities said they didn’t know whether the inmates had been held against their will.
Earlier in the day, 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.
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.
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.
The prison opened in 1971 and was the site of the state’s death row and where executions were carried out.
In 2004, an inmate there 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.