Virgin Islands corrections sends 105 sentenced inmates stateside

The transfer involved 105 inmates, with 67 going to the facility in Arizona and 38 going to Florida

The Virgin Islands Daily News

ST. THOMAS — The Bureau of Corrections on Tuesday transferred 105 sentenced inmates from Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility to stateside prisons, which officials say will ease the burden on Corrections officers while the bureau makes required improvements at the prison.

Gov. Kenneth Mapp announced the move during a press conference at Government House in Christiansted on Tuesday morning, when he said the inmates were already airborne.

The prisoners, he said, were on their way to Citrus County Detention Facility in Florida and to Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona. Both facilities are operated by a private company, Corrections Corporation of America. The company owns Saguaro Correctional Center, according to information on its website.

During Tuesday’s press conference, Mapp also spoke about plans for the Corrections Bureau, while at the same time scolding Superior Court judges, blaming them for not moving cases forward through the system and leaving a backlog of detainees at Corrections.

“The court is simply not moving on its dockets,” he said.

V.I. Superior Court Presiding Judge Michael Dunston said on Tuesday afternoon that he had not heard nor seen the press conference, and therefore could not respond to what was said.

The transfer involved 105 inmates, with 67 going to the facility in Arizona and 38 going to Florida, officials said.

That leaves 52 sentenced inmates at Golden Grove, with approximately 167 detainees, according to Mapp.

Detainees are awaiting trial. Only sentenced inmates can be transferred out of the territory.

The 105 inmates who were flown out on Tuesday bring the total number of the territory’s inmates who are being housed at outside facilities to approximately 257, Mapp said.

He said it is much less expensive to keep inmates in facilities off-island than it is to keep them here.

According to Mapp, the cost for keeping an inmate in the territory is $150 per day, plus the cost of any medical care, which he said is taken from the General Fund. By contrast, he said one of the stateside facilities charges $82 per inmate per day, while the other charges $67 per inmate, per day — rates that he said include medical care.

The move on Tuesday was aimed in part at bringing the number of inmates down to a manageable size for the staffing level at Corrections, officials said.

According to the governor, Corrections currently has approximately 133 officers, but if all the sentenced and detained prisoners were housed at Golden Grove, Corrections would need an additional 80 officers.

The territory has been under various sets of court orders to bring conditions of confinement at the prison — which violate the ban on cruel and unusual punishment — up to constitutional standards for almost 30 years.

The territory has yet to do so.

Officials on Tuesday said the transfer of prisoners stateside will give Corrections breathing room to make necessary reforms in staff recruiting and development, as well as physical improvements to the facility

V.I. Corrections Bureau Director Rick Mullgrav said Tuesday that transferring prisoners out will reduce the number of officers that are necessary, lower the cost of keeping inmates and help increase safety and security.

He said the transferred inmates would be returned to the territory in the future — but he did not say when.

“We’re looking at rebuilding and doing construction, and at that point when we can facilitate them in the territory, we will be bringing them back,” he said, although he declined to give a time frame for completing the work.

Among the work to be done, he said in a statement this week, are renovations to the prison’s kitchen and cafeteria and installation of blowers and exhaust fans in housing units.

Although other large inmate transfers to stateside facilities have occurred more than once in the last 10 years — and Corrections has made plans to implement reform while there were fewer prisoners at Golden Grove — nothing has happened that was adequate to bring conditions at the prison up to constitutional standards.

Corrections officials did not say specifically who was transferred, although Mullgrav said Corrections — and not the receiving institutions — decided who stayed and who went.

In a court filing in 2011 when the federal government was trying to take over the troubled prison, federal civil rights lawyers said that the transfer of 66 prisoners stateside that year actually wound up making conditions more dangerous and volatile inside Golden Grove because of the way it was done. The filing notes that the Corrections director at the time, Julius Wilson, allowed the stateside facility that would be accepting most of the prisoners to choose which ones it wanted.

The filing concluded that many of the prisoners moved in 2011 were not security or discipline risks and were classified at the lowest security levels, while Golden Grove was left with a higher concentration of dangerous and violent prisoners.

On Tuesday, Mullgrav said the decision about which sentenced inmates stayed and which ones were flown out was made by Corrections and was based on who could work.

“Generally speaking, what we kept are workers. People that work at the facility, that do work around the facility, that can help us make the improvements that are necessary,” he said.

Mapp said Tuesday that his plans include investing “a significant number of dollars” into demolishing portions of Golden Grove and rebuilding it. However, he did not provide specifics.

He also said he had directed Mullgrav to recruit more officers, and to enter into an agreement with the federal Bureau of Prisons for training Corrections officers. He said he had also directed negotiation of a new base pay for Corrections Officers.

“We simply cannot recruit the adequate quality of candidates at $24,000 per annum,” he said.

Mapp acknowledged that the transfer may “raise some hackles in the community” over family visitation issues, but he said the government’s responsibility is the safety and security of the system — and he noted the problems in the system.

He also suggested that there would be more transfers to come.

“We are committed to professionalizing the institution and the movement — the continued movement — of prisoners and convicted felons out of the territory is the mantra of this administration,” he said.

Mapp complained about cases in which people were detained and had been awaiting trial for years — and blamed the judicial branch in large part for the backlog.

He said he met with Dunston recently and discussed the problem.

“We have prisoners sitting in Golden Grove, some for as high as seven years waiting for trial — five years, three years — some of these persons are charged with aggravated assault, destruction of property, burglaries,” he said. “Yes, there are one or two that have been charged with murder. But at the end of the day, housing a detainee at the cost of $150 a day at the Bureau of Corrections and waiting as long as seven years and seven months for trial is totally unacceptable.”

He did not provide information about how many detainees had been waiting for trial that long.

Mapp said he accepted some level of responsibility for the problem because of the need to improve the resources at the V.I. Justice Department — but he complained about judges.

“We have judges who are being paid in the Superior Court — who some simply don’t even report to work on a regular basis, do not move their court calendar, do not respond to simple motions and move the administration of justice forward,” the governor said, although he did not name anyone.

Mapp said he plans to forward a bill to the Legislature that would make a speedy trial provision applicable to persons arrested in the territory.

He said he also plans to discuss with senators on the Homeland Security, Public Safety and Justice Committee the possibility of legislation empowering the Parole Board to release elderly, ill prisoners to a halfway house, where they could be eligible for Medicare benefits.

Copyright 2016 The Virgin Islands Daily News

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