When V.I. Bureau of Corrections officials appeared in front of Judge Curtis Gomez for their quarterly settlement agreement status hearing for St. Thomas facilities on Friday, Judge Gomez said he was "heartened" by the progress, according to Government House.
Gomez also noted there was more work to be done.
“I am heartened by your improvements,” Gomez said. “Out of all the consent decree cases I have in front of me, this agency has done the most in the least amount of time," she added.
Asked why all the bureau’s goals were not met, security expert David Bogard said, "It takes more than just policies and procedures.”
“Creating administrative directives and enforcing them are more difficult than it may appear," Bogard said. “For many years, officers and staff have done business in a particular way and it takes more than just a change of rules and regulations to change that. You are changing a culture. These changes cannot and will not happen overnight.”
Corrections Director Rick Mullgrav said the bureau was working hard to meet all of the court’s directives.
“The changes being made at the Bureau of Corrections is territorywide and are very challenging. It requires that the officers are retrained to meet new standards in performing their duties,” Mullgrav said.
“Progress has been made, not as rapidly as we would like it to be, but the hard work is being put forward,” he added. “With all of the challenges that the staff and officers have to deal with on a day-to-day basis, whether it may be the physical plant or resources, I know this team is committed and doing an outstanding job and I thank them for their relentless dedication.”
Mullgrav took the helm at Corrections in mid-2015 after the termination of Julius Wilson.
The status hearing concerned a 2013 settlement agreement between the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of several inmates, concerning conditions for inmates and security at the Criminal Justice Complex and Alva Swan Annex on St. Thomas. Addressing a complaint filed in 1994, it is similar to and deals with similar complaints as one covering the Golden Grove prison on St. Croix. The St. Croix case has a court-appointed monitor, while the St. Thomas case does not.
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. Problems have persisted and, since August of 2012, the U.S. government proposed a new settlement agreement, the U.S. Virgin Islands agreed, and both sides agreed to select Kenneth Ray of Justice Services LLC as an independent monitor to issue regular compliance reports.
Several of Ray’s reports since then found little to no progress. (See Related Links below)
The next report on Golden Grove is due to be filed with the court no later than Sep. 7. A status conference is scheduled for Sep. 20, before Judge Wilma Lewis. The next status hearing regarding St. Thomas has not yet been scheduled.