Part 3: Inmates, COs Question "Broken" DOC Policies, Procedures - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

Part 3: Inmates, COs Question "Broken" DOC Policies, Procedures

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DOVER, Del. - It's a system inmates and correctional officers alike call broken.

"As far as rights, they seem to lack in taking care of that," said Josh Lewis, a former inmate who served 9 years behind bars.

According to the Department of Corrections policy, if there's a concern about jail conditions, inmates must fill out a grievance form within seven days of an incident.

Jane Smith, a former correctional officer who asked 47 ABC to conceal her identity said that inmates can file a grievance and that it will be "looked up over it, but it's their word" against a prisoner's word.

There's also a catch with the rule:  prisoners can only grieve for their own issues, not on behalf of someone else.

"The other inmate, if they are a witness, then they can be involved in the investigative part of [the process], but to file a grievance on behalf of others, no," said DOC commissioner Robert Coupe.

The grievance system is far from the only complaint raised to 47 ABC. Another involves headcounts, which according to the "Inmate Housing Rules For Medium High Security" explains can be conducted multiple times during the day.

"If an incident happens in there, you aren't able to grieve because they'll put you in the back in max or in the [Security Housing Unit] and they'll hide you," said Lewis. "They'll make it so that you can't have contact with anybody and so therefore you're unable to have the proper paper work.

"You have people out there who saw what happened and they're unable to write the grievance for you. It's like you're hidden and nobody knows what's going on."

"You are supposed to go to every door and make sure you have a living, breathing body," said Jane Smith. "But you have many officers that just walk down that tier, do their phone punch and walk right back off again. Then you have a next shift come in and they may find somebody dead, because somebody did not do their job properly."

We asked Jane if this happened before. She answered, "yes, it has."

Coupe denied answering questions about headcounts saying, "it's a security-type conversation that I'm not permitted to have that conversation right now."

Questions also surround DOC's Prison Response Teams. 47 ABC first investigated the tactic back in April after Ronald Shoup died at SCI reportedly at the hands of this team. His death certificate ruled it a homicide sustaining "lethal trauma while being restrained by the Prison Response Team" at SCI. Delaware State Police continues to investigate the Shoup case, but no charges have been filed.

Coupe says the team is necessary, even if only one person is acting out.

"The idea is to use enough force to neutralize the situation, minimize the risk of injury to all involved parties," said Coupe.

Ken Abraham, founder of Citizens For Criminal Justice, was locked up for five years. He explains the teams, also called Quick Reaction Teams as "big guys with body armor, helmets, shields, batons and the whole nine yards. Six to nine of them respond to a situation."

"They do everything they possibly can do that so that they do not have to fire on that inmate," said Jane Smith.

"If someone says, 'go in your cell, lock down', which they have to do if we're going to do certain events and they refuse to go in their cell, we have to do something," said Coupe. "Offenders can not run the prisoners.

"You can't maintain order in a prison without maintaining order and to maintain order if someone's given that directive they have to follow it."

But does the system in place have flaws?    

"I think we are addressing it now," said Coupe. "That doesn't mean we're going to get it every time. We're not perfect."

Delaware State Police continues to investigate the Ronald Shoup case, but no charges have been filed.

 

To read Part 1 of 47 ABC's investigation into abuse claims at DOC, click here.

To read Part 2 of 47 ABC's investigation into abuse claims at DOC, click here.

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