5 Things You Need to Know About the Vaughn Rebellion

The latest news on the prison rebellion that has left one guard dead at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Smyrna, Delaware.

Miss Rosenby Miss Rosen
Photo: James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, Smyrna, Delaware, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

What is the Vaughn Rebellion?

On February 1, 2017, prisoners at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, the largest state prison in Delaware, took five guards and an unknown number of prison inmates hostage inside the facility’s “C” Building, which holds more than 100 inmates.

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The standoff began at 10:38 a.m., when a correctional officer radioed for “immediate assistance.” At 2:42 p.m., one of the guards, who was injured, was released and taken to a hospital. Later that evening, two guards and 27 inmates were released. In total 46 prisoners were released, while 82 remained inside.

The rebellion happened on the 152 anniversary of President Lincoln signing the 13th Amendment into law, which legalizes slavery in the case of incarceration. The at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center, a maximum security prison, holds 2,500 inmates, all males, including those living on death row.

What is the status of the rebellion?

On Thursday morning at 5:00 a.m., state police stormed the building and discovered one guard unresponsive; he was pronounced dead at 5:29 a.m. The second guard was taken to a local hospital. The agency released a statement saying she is alert and talking.

Why did the prisoners stage a rebellion?

At 1:00 p.m., an inmate made a phone call to the Wilmington News Journal. “I’m just doing what I’m being told to. I’m just trying to help, ma’am. They just need somebody to hear their demands,” the inmate told the reporter. The inmate, who would not give his name, said that they wanted prison reform, focusing on education, sentencing, status sheets, and oppression toward the inmates.

Later that day, a woman who said her son was being held hostage called the News Journal and told them, “We’re trying to explain the reasons for doing what we’re doing. “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. We know the institution is going to change for the worse. We got demands that you need to pay attention to, that you need to listen to and you need to let them know. Education, we want education first and foremost. We want a rehabilitation program that works for everybody. We want the money to be allocated so we can know exactly what is going on in the prison, the budget.”

How has the public responded to the crisis?

The situation has gained attention across the nation as people took to social media to discuss the seige using the hashtag #VaughnRebellion.

Is slavery still legal in the United States?

Yes. It was never outlawed. As Crave previously reported: The 13th Amendment of the Constitution, ratified in 1865, declared, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

According to the 2004 Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 700,000 prisoners have jobs helping to run the prison, while an additional 60,000 inmates participate in “correctional industries” programs, which mimic real-world jobs.

Prisoners are forced to work for little or no pay, while corporations profit. On average, prisoners work 8 hours a day, making between .23 and $1.15 per hour. Up to 80&% of wages can be withheld to pay for the prisoners’ room and board. States including Texas, Georgia, and Arkansas do not pay inmates anything at all.

At the same time, the government provides tax credits to corporations that employ prisoners, in excess of millions of dollars a year. Corporations reported to use prison labor, both past and present, include Victoria’s Secret, Starbucks, Wal-Mart, AT&T, Whole Foods suppliers, and the U.S. military, among many others. Strike organizers point out that this is not a problem for inmates alone, noting that the use of prison labor takes jobs away from the American workforce.


Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.