Vaughn Prison maximum security unit features new space for education programs

Pictured: one of the classrooms in the maximum security unit at Vaughn Prison

In February 2017 as an inmate riot was underway at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna that would result in the murder of correctional officer Lt. Steven Floyd, negotiations were conducted over radio.

"Education--we want education first and foremost," one of the offenders was heard saying.

Wednesday, WDEL took part in a tour of a new educational wing at Vaughn prison's maximum security unit. It will offer classroom instruction for offenders who are interested in obtaining a GED.

There's also an automotive training area.

"For the first time in our history we are able to offer significant and life-changing education and treatment opportunities to our maximum security offenders," Vaughn Prison Warden Dana Metzger said. 

Treatment, mental health programs and instruction in anger management techniques are also now within easy access of the more than 300 offenders who are housed in the maximum security unit.

"Let's face it, a majority of the offenders in this building are going to be released," Commissioner of Correction Claire DeMatteis said. "As they walk out prison doors it behooves us to get them better education skills and better life skills so that they can be productive on the outside."

DeMatteis also added that the DOC originally asked for funding for the new building in 2015. The 2018 budget allocation came after an independent review of the circumstances surrounding the 2017 inmate riot. 

Salaries were hiked for correctional officers, and many new cameras were also installed. The education component was also part of Governor John Carney's Executive Order 27, which was designed to support re-entry programs and reduce recidivism.

The education space resembles typical classrooms, until you look closely at the desks. They are constructed entirely of metal. A small metal fence is attached to one side.

Also, offenders are shackled by their ankles to the desks during instruction time.

However, it's also an opportunity for them to learn and to think about what's ahead.

"You've got people who want to learn. It doesn't matter if you're teaching middle school, high school or here in the prison system. Your goal is to come in, teach and make that person better than when they walked in your room," instructor Marc Dickerson said. 

According to Secretary of Education Susan Bunting:

"This project is an opportunity for these men to prove that high security prisoners can take advantage of support services and they can make a conscious decision to change the direction of their lives."