Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s announcement Tuesday of 105 prisoners transferred from Golden Grove Correctional Facility and Detention Center earlier in the day might help with the Virgin Islands budget problems, but it might also upset family members of those prisoners.
Mapp said 38 of the prisoners were going to Citrus County, Fla., and 67 to Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona. He said the cost of housing these inmates off-island would range from $67 to $82 a day while the cost of housing them at Golden Grove was about $150 a day.
After Mapp’s statement at St. Croix Government House, Corrections Director Rick Mullgrav said that family members had not been consulted concerning the transfers. He said the 52 inmates remaining at Golden Grove were “workers” who would help through a process for a planned demolition of the present facility and construction of a new one. This latest transfer brings to 257 the total number of Virgin Island prisoners being housed off-island.
Some of Mapp’s news Tuesday might be more pleasing to the families of some prisoners. He said he is going to be making an effort to get the wheels of justice moving faster. He said there are prisoners who have been waiting up to seven years for trials.
“What this amounts to is that by the time the prisoner goes to trial, he could have already served the sentence he would receive. This is not the way justice is to work,” Mapp said.
Although Mapp said he was not “bashing” anyone, he did say, “Some judges don’t come in for regular working hours.”
Mapp also stated that he was involved in a process to get a higher base salary for correction officers. This has been on Mullgrav’s mind for awhile. Last December, Mullgrav told the Source, “We have one of the lowest pay rates in government. We’d like to get pay parity with police.” The starting salary for a police officer is $30,000. For a corrections officer, it is $24,500.
Another issue with prisoners that Mapp said his administration was addressing was an aging prison population. He said about some aging prisoners, “We have squeezed all the punishment we can out of them.”
He said some of these prisoners had serious health problems and that, if they could be released to a half-way house, maybe, the medical costs could be assumed by Medicare or Medicaid instead of the Virgin Islands General Fund.
He added that he did not want to see this done as a “political process” with the governor commuting sentences. He would prefer to work with the Legislature and work out a standard process.
Families who are unable to visit members who are in prison in Arizona or Florida may in the future have the opportunity to videoconference with them. However, at present, Mullgrav said the specifics of such a plan have not been worked out.
The cost of transporting the prisoners to the stateside facilities was absorbed by the receiving facilities, according to Mullgrav. Both prisons are privately owned by Correction Corporation of America (CCA) – the largest private prison company in the states. The corporation has faced criticism for poor treatment of employees as well as prisoners. Saguaro was originally built to house prisoners from Hawaii.
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.