Golden Grove Still 'Very Dangerous,' Monitor's Report Says

Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility remains "a very dangerous, violent, unhealthy, under-supervised, under-maintained and deleteriously understaffed correctional environment," according to the report of the federal monitoring team that inspected the prison in March.

"Inmates and staff are unnecessarily exposed to real and potential psycho-social and physical violence, inmates cannot receive adequate levels of medical or mental health services and care, and the lack of an adequate fire suppression system places everyone working and incarcerated at GGACF at constant substantial risk," according to the report submitted by federal monitor Kenneth A. Ray, which was released this week.

V.I. Bureau of Corrections Director Julius Wilson said Wednesday that he has reviewed the report, and while he is disappointed with some aspects of the report, he appreciates the work the monitor performed toward preparing it.

“There is much work left to be done” Wilson said, adding that Correction leadership and Golden Grove staff continue to work “toward the fulfillment of the objectives of the Settlement Agreement."

For decades, Golden Grove has operated 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.

Problems have persisted and, since 2003, U.S. District Court for the Virgin Islands has issued several compliance orders directing the V.I. Bureau of Corrections to take specific security measures; hire new health care professionals; provide specific mental, medical and dental services; and eliminate specific fire and safety hazards, among other detailed directives.

Since August 2012 the U.S. government proposed a new settlement agreement, the U.S. Virgin Islands agreed, and both sides agreed to select Ray of Justice Services LLC as an independent monitor to issue regular compliance reports.

Wilson said the bureau has been doubling its efforts to hire additional staff and develop policies that will meet the demands of the settlement agreement.

"These efforts are a continuing work in progress, which will be realized in the near future,” Wilson said, adding that both the territory and the U.S. Department of Justice agree that “the settlement agreement will take time and a tremendous and concerted effort.”

Wilson said the report "acknowledged several improvements achieved by the territory." In fact, of the 120 areas the monitor graded, none were found to be in compliance or substantial compliance. In this report, the third from the independent monitor, 12 percent of the areas being judged, 14 of 120, were found to be in partial compliance, an improvement from the second report, when only seven areas, or 6 percent, were in partial compliance.

Of the 120 areas, 106, or 88 percent, were judged to be in noncompliance, compared to the previous report’s finding of 108, or 91 percent, in noncompliance.

The report catalogs a long list of problems.

According to Ray, housing unit logs report that inmates remain able to “pop” their cell door locks open and gain unauthorized access to areas that should be off limits. Suicidal inmates continue to be placed on suicide watch by correctional officers without the mental health staff being involved or even told, and housing unit logs report that officers have difficulty summoning medical staff when needed for inmate medical issues. Sometimes corrections officers decide to respond to medical issues on their own without consulting medical staff.

Events involving use of force against inmates are not reported consistently, the report says, and there have been delays in reporting potentially serious medical issues involving inmates assaulted by other inmates.

The report says territory officials must redouble their efforts and seriously consider revising recruiting policies in order to fill all correctional and health care vacancies and to hire all additional staff required following completion of the staffing analysis.

Because of the shortage of correctional staff, the prison’s logs for September thru March reported approximately 275 instances of housing units being left locked or unlocked and unattended by staff; officers showing up to work to find no officer on post; officers leaving work or their post without authorization; officers arriving late to work; no supervisor being on duty; and one officer responsible for monitoring two housing units.

An examination of supervisor logs for August through February found more than 100 instances involving no unit staff, no supervisor, “extremely short staffed,” staff call-offs, lateness, leaving work without authorization and refusing to work assignments as directed.

Equally vital is filling all health care vacancies, the report continued, including the medical director and nursing staff immediately. Until this is accomplished, Ray wrote, inmate health services effectively functions without qualified leadership and clinical staffing levels necessary to provide and maintain constitutional levels of health care.

The number of inmates with mental illness, many suffering from serious mental illness, cannot be adequately assessed, treated and monitored by a single mental health counselor and one psychiatrist; additional mental health staff is clearly warranted and necessary, according to the report.

Ray’s report says, "This assessment found a paucity of progress despite the commendable efforts to purchase new radios, engage a major facility cleanup effort, observing many of the housing and external gates locked, hiring the new psychiatrist, and repairing perimeter fence lighting" since the "Findings of Fact Report," which was filed in February 2013, the September 2013 "Baseline Assessment" and the December 2013 second assessment.

The report found that "substandard and inconsistent security practices, i.e. consistently closing and locking security doors and gates, are exacerbated by inoperable locking mechanisms. Housing units continue to flood during heavy rains and mold remains profuse throughout most inmate housing areas. The training program, based on documents provided, requires significant overhaul."

The report also notes Golden Grove continues to be susceptible to contraband being easily smuggled in, including knives, shanks, cutting devices, impact tools, cell phones and drugs.

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