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Undercurrents: Corrections Bureau Struggles to Weather Stormy Days

A regular Source feature, Undercurrents explores issues, ideas and events as they develop beneath the surface in the Virgin Islands community.

It’s been a rough 10 days for anyone involved with the V.I.’s long term prison on St. Croix, the Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility: an unannounced large scale transfer of prisoners, an unexplained escape and recapture, an unexpected dismissal of the warden, and an unofficial job action.

Over the weekend of April 14, Corrections shipped 22 long term inmates from Golden Grove to mainland prisons in Florida and Virginia. At the same time, 27 sentenced inmates were transferred from the short-term facility on St. Thomas, 19 of them to Golden Grove and eight to the mainland. All were men. None were told in advance that they would be transferred.

Despite the large numbers, BOC spokeswoman Juel Andersen said the action went smoothly, and caused little if any disruption to the V.I. facilities.

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Not so the events of last week, which resulted in an administrative upheaval starting Friday and continuing through the weekend.

By Monday morning, confusion reigned as people both within and outside of the Bureau of Corrections tried to sort things out.

But at the end of the day, Basil Richards was reinstated as warden at Golden Grove.

Government House spokesman Jean Greaux said that BOC Director Julius Wilson had suspended Richards over a disagreement about the interpretation of a court order concerning Nicholas Miller, a detainee. On Monday, Wilson reversed the suspension.

Miller, a former Superior Court deputy marshal, was arrested April 15 and was detained at Golden Grove. The next night he somehow escaped from the prison, and before the end of the next day, April 17, he was back in custody. Richards released a brief statement last week saying an investigation was ongoing into how Miller was able to escape. That investigation had not been concluded Monday, according to Greaux.

Miller was originally charged with second degree robbery and grand larceny. Charges against him now include escape from custody, unauthorized use of a vehicle, and interfering with an officer.

Superior Court Magistrate Jessica Gallivan issued an Order on April 18 (last Thursday) stating in part that, “the Bureau of Corrections shall immediately transfer Defendant to the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital emergency room for psychiatric stabilization.”

However, she stipulated that “Defendant shall remain in the custody of the Bureau of Corrections while pending stabilization at the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital, until there is further order of this Court.”

Once stabilized, the magistrate ordered that Miller be placed in an in-patient facility for treatment “as determined by his treating physician, including a voluntary placement at the V.A. Hospital in Puerto Rico.”

Finally, the Order says if Miller is released from the hospital or any other in-patient facility, he is to report to the BOC, “and for further proceedings in these matters.” Meanwhile, she stayed an advice of rights proceeding that had been scheduled for April 19.

Officials were tight-lipped over just how Wilson and Richards disagreed over the court order. According to published reports, Richards’ dismissal came indirectly on Friday in a memo Wilson sent to the assistant warden and prompted a bit of a spontaneous job action by Corrections officers in a show of support for Richards.

Monday Assistant Warden Diane Prosper confirmed that “I received a memo from the director that he (Richards) has been relieved.” Per normal protocol, she said, “I’m just filling in while he’s out.”

Officers at the prison wanted “clarity,” Prosper said, so on Monday morning Assistant Director Dwayne Benjamin met with them.

Messages seeking comment left for Wilson and for Richards were not returned.

However, at the end of the work day Monday, Wilson released a written statement, saying:

“Let me reassure the public that at no time was the safety and security at Golden Grove compromised either to the prison population or the civilian and sworn staff.”

He went on to acknowledge “that a personnel issue grew out of the interpretation of a court order having to do with the movement of a prison inmate outside of the Golden Grove compound. The matter has been, and is still, being addressed and all of the concerns surrounding this issue will be resolved shortly.”

Miller is currently still at Golden Grove, Andersen said.

“Specifically, as regards Warden Basil Richards – I did suspend him on Friday of this past week as a result of personnel issues and was planning to hold a hearing next week to resolve the concerns,” Wilson said in the written statement. “However, on further review of my decision, I have today asked Mr. Richards to return to duty immediately to his position of Warden, which he has done, at the Golden Grove Prison. At no time did I make a recommendation to the Governor that Warden Richard’s employment be terminated.

“Our entire staff remains committed to provide a safe environment for our staff and inmate population – that is our mission and that (is) what we set out to achieve each day,” he said, concluding, “we have concerns over the recent escape and we are working through those as well.”

Meanwhile, Andersen provided more details concerning the transfers of the other prisoners, which were made “for security, management and consolidation reasons.” Some of those transferred had been involved in multiple infractions, some involving contraband and some gang-related activities. Others may have been separated from gangs and needed protection. Others – most of those moved from St. Thomas – had been sentenced to terms that required a long-term facility.

Concerning accommodations for the families of prisoners who were sent off-island, Andersen said that in the past provisions had been made for video conferencing visits and that is expected to be continued. She said she could not say whether the transfers are meant to be permanent.

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A regular Source feature, Undercurrents explores issues, ideas and events as they develop beneath the surface in the Virgin Islands community. It’s been a rough 10 days for anyone involved with the V.I.’s long term prison on St. Croix, the Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility: an unannounced large scale transfer of prisoners, an unexplained escape and recapture, an unexpected dismissal of the warden, and an unofficial job action. Over the weekend of April 14, Corrections shipped 22 long term inmates from Golden Grove to mainland prisons in Florida and Virginia. At the same time, 27 sentenced inmates were transferred from the short-term facility on St. Thomas, 19 of them to Golden Grove and eight to the mainland. All were men. None were told in advance that they would be transferred. Despite the large numbers, BOC spokeswoman Juel Andersen said the action went smoothly, and caused little if any disruption to the V.I. facilities. Not so the events of last week, which resulted in an administrative upheaval starting Friday and continuing through the weekend. By Monday morning, confusion reigned as people both within and outside of the Bureau of Corrections tried to sort things out. But at the end of the day, Basil Richards was reinstated as warden at Golden Grove. Government House spokesman Jean Greaux said that BOC Director Julius Wilson had suspended Richards over a disagreement about the interpretation of a court order concerning Nicholas Miller, a detainee. On Monday, Wilson reversed the suspension. Miller, a former Superior Court deputy marshal, was arrested April 15 and was detained at Golden Grove. The next night he somehow escaped from the prison, and before the end of the next day, April 17, he was back in custody. Richards released a brief statement last week saying an investigation was ongoing into how Miller was able to escape. That investigation had not been concluded Monday, according to Greaux. Miller was originally charged with second degree robbery and grand larceny. Charges against him now include escape from custody, unauthorized use of a vehicle, and interfering with an officer. Superior Court Magistrate Jessica Gallivan issued an Order on April 18 (last Thursday) stating in part that, “the Bureau of Corrections shall immediately transfer Defendant to the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital emergency room for psychiatric stabilization.” However, she stipulated that “Defendant shall remain in the custody of the Bureau of Corrections while pending stabilization at the Governor Juan F. Luis Hospital, until there is further order of this Court.” Once stabilized, the magistrate ordered that Miller be placed in an in-patient facility for treatment “as determined by his treating physician, including a voluntary placement at the V.A. Hospital in Puerto Rico.” Finally, the Order says if Miller is released from the hospital or any other in-patient facility, he is to report to the BOC, “and for further proceedings in these matters.” Meanwhile, she stayed an advice of rights proceeding that had been scheduled for April 19. Officials were tight-lipped over just how Wilson and Richards disagreed over the court order. According to published reports, Richards’ dismissal came indirectly on Friday in a memo Wilson sent to the assistant warden and prompted a bit of a spontaneous job action by Corrections officers in a show of support for Richards. Monday Assistant Warden Diane Prosper confirmed that “I received a memo from the director that he (Richards) has been relieved.” Per normal protocol, she said, “I’m just filling in while he’s out.” Officers at the prison wanted “clarity,” Prosper said, so on Monday morning Assistant Director Dwayne Benjamin met with them. Messages seeking comment left for Wilson and for Richards were not returned. However, at the end of the work day Monday, Wilson released a written statement, saying: “Let me reassure the public that at no time was the safety and security at Golden Grove compromised either to the prison population or the civilian and sworn staff.” He went on to acknowledge “that a personnel issue grew out of the interpretation of a court order having to do with the movement of a prison inmate outside of the Golden Grove compound. The matter has been, and is still, being addressed and all of the concerns surrounding this issue will be resolved shortly.” Miller is currently still at Golden Grove, Andersen said. “Specifically, as regards Warden Basil Richards – I did suspend him on Friday of this past week as a result of personnel issues and was planning to hold a hearing next week to resolve the concerns,” Wilson said in the written statement. “However, on further review of my decision, I have today asked Mr. Richards to return to duty immediately to his position of Warden, which he has done, at the Golden Grove Prison. At no time did I make a recommendation to the Governor that Warden Richard’s employment be terminated. “Our entire staff remains committed to provide a safe environment for our staff and inmate population – that is our mission and that (is) what we set out to achieve each day,” he said, concluding, “we have concerns over the recent escape and we are working through those as well.” Meanwhile, Andersen provided more details concerning the transfers of the other prisoners, which were made “for security, management and consolidation reasons.” Some of those transferred had been involved in multiple infractions, some involving contraband and some gang-related activities. Others may have been separated from gangs and needed protection. Others – most of those moved from St. Thomas – had been sentenced to terms that required a long-term facility. Concerning accommodations for the families of prisoners who were sent off-island, Andersen said that in the past provisions had been made for video conferencing visits and that is expected to be continued. She said she could not say whether the transfers are meant to be permanent.