A federal judge recently found most court orders issued to try to enforce a 1986 consent decree trying to get the V.I. government to improve the Golden Grove Correctional Facility may be invalid. The judge ordered an evidentiary hearing to examine them.
The V.I. Justice Department has been operating Golden Grove under a 1986 federal consent decree requiring the territory’s government to bring the prison up to constitutional standards. A 1990 plan of compliance and a 2003 stipulated agreement followed the consent decree. The U.S. Justice Department has continued to press the case, saying the problems cited in 1986 largely remain unaddressed.
Since 2003, the court has issued several compliance orders directing the V.I. Bureau of Corrections to take specific security measures, to hire new healthcare professionals, to provide specific mental, medical and dental services, and to eliminate specific fire and safety hazards, among other detailed directives.
In June of 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion requesting that Golden Grove be placed in receivership under direct federal control.
In a memorandum opinion issued Feb. 8, U.S. District Judge Wilma Lewis agreed with V.I. Justice Department arguments that many of these orders may run afoul of the 1996 federal Prison Litigation Reform Act. The PLRA was designed to limit lawsuits against prisons and requires court orders mandating prison reforms to cite specific problems and explicitly link them to specific federal rights.
The act also requires those orders to be drawn as narrowly as possible, so they go no further than necessary and cause the least amount of burden possible.
Under the PLRA, a court must explicitly find any orders to correct problems at a prison meet these requirements, or the defendant (the V.I. government in this case) is entitled to have those orders and directives immediately terminated.
In her February order, Lewis directed that "an evidentiary hearing will be conducted to determine whether there is a current and ongoing violation of a federal right at Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility."
A telephonic status conference is scheduled for Feb. 23, at which time the parties will discuss the legal issues and when to schedule the evidentiary hearing.