Rafael Joseph, the accused rapist who escaped from Golden Grove Correctional Facility late Sunday night and was recaptured at noon Monday, was a "student" of the prison, Corrections officials said, watching how things worked and how guards performed their jobs.
Sounding contrite Monday afternoon, Bureau of Corrections Director Julius Wilson said the bureau is working to understand how Joseph did it so that it won’t happen again.
"We’re here to protect the public and this certainly doesn’t represent good corrections," Wilson said during a news teleconference to discuss the incident. “We’re very much aware of that and we’ll seek to remedy that.”
Also taking part in the news conference were Golden Grove Warden Basil Richards and Assistant Police Commissioner Thomas Hannah.
Officials said they are trying to learn from the escape and eventual capture, but there was apparently plenty that went wrong.
– Joseph was in prison at the 9 p.m. Sunday headcount. Wilson said the next headcount was scheduled for 2:30 a.m., but prison officials did not become aware Joseph was missing until the V.I. Police Department contacted them at 3:05 a.m. Monday to say a woman had reported being raped by a man she knew who should have been in prison. A subsequent headcount revealed at 3:20 a.m. that Joseph was missing.
Richards said one aspect of the investigation into the escape is whether or not the 2:30 a.m. headcount took place, and if it did, why someone didn’t notice a missing prisoner.
– Reports from the prison’s independent monitor have said as recently as last month that the prison is understaffed and that some of the locked doors can be forced open without a key. Incidents were reported where sections of the jail have been left unstaffed.
Wilson said Monday afternoon that there was a guard on duty in the housing section that Joseph escaped from.
Pressed on the question of staffing, Wilson replied that he doesn’t know yet how the escape happened and therefore can’t attribute it to short staffing. He said he did not know yet whether one of the locks discussed in the report was involved in the escape, but admitted staffing the prison adequately "is a challenge."
If the security of the locks is the problem, he added, the locks will be replaced. He also said there had been no evidence to indicate that Joseph was aided by anyone either inside or outside the prison.
– Wilson said Joseph left the ground from behind the prison, where the property abuts the vacant Patrick Sweeney Police Station. Before Joseph had even been returned to the prison, workers were already installing new concertina wire across that section, Wilson said.
– Hannah said he was notified of the escape at about 5:30 a.m. and immediately launched what he called a special reaction team that included all available V.I. Police Department officers, plus officers from the Territorial Marshals Service, the Federal Court Marshals, DLC enforcement officers and officers of federal agencies. Because Joseph was known to have habituated the Frederiksted area, the search was centered there.
The initial news release reporting Joseph’s capture said he had been spotted trying to escape into the brush near the Ludwig Harrigan housing community, but Hannah said the capture actually happened nearer to the Claude O. Markoe Elementary School.
"At 11:41 we had a report that he’d been spotted on Strand Street in Frederiksted," Hannah said. "At 11:55 he was spotted in the vicinity of Claude O. Markoe. … Our officers went up the road and into the bush. At 11:58 he was in the process of being booked."
– Following discovery of the escape, the prison was locked down and will remain so until officials complete a security inspection. Wilson and Richards said Joseph will be interrogated to learn as much as possible about how he made his escape. During the lockdown and heightened security, no job leave will be approved for prison staff. "I want everybody here." Wilson declined to say how long the lockdown or the investigation will last.
"Security has to do its job. They will tell me when it’s finished," he said.
– Joseph has been incarcerated awaiting trial for more than three years, ever since his February 2011 arrest for two rapes. One of those charges has since been dismissed, Wilson said. There was no suggestion that anything in particular spurred Joseph’s decision to make a break for it, but Corrections is going through any letters or other communications he has had to see if there was some clue they missed.
The director added trained prison guards can often tell what’s going on or likely to happen simply by remaining engaged with the prison population. "There’s no magic here," he said. "You can discover things through talking to people, you can tell if that person is going to do something.”
“I’m not sure we’re doing a good job in that area,” Wilson acknowledged. “We need to engage more with our inmates."
He said it doesn’t require psychiatry, just "good conversation skills, good observation skills, paying more attention."
– The victim who was raped Monday morning lives alone, Hannah said. She came to the station to report what had happened. That victim was said to be the former girlfriend of Joseph, one of the two victims of the 2011 rapes. Wilson said he didn’t not know whether hers was one of the old cases that was still active, or the dismissed case.
– Wilson said Joseph’s profile was as "a fairly decent prisoner," one who – until Sunday night – followed the rules. But he added that guards have told him Joseph is "a student of what they did … He may have known their movements. He did a great deal of studying," Wilson said.
The director said the incident pointed to a need for better training and more equipment. One part of that puzzle would be an improved surveillance system, he said.
The bureau has secured the funds for a closed-circuit television system that will cover all the prison. That fiber optic system will tie into every employee’s computer or laptop and can be monitored from any location, Wilson said, so that an employee could even monitor the cameras from home.
The bid for the equipment has not yet gone out.