The chief judge of the District Court in the Virgin Islands turned aside complaints by U.S. lawyers about officials at the Bureau of Corrections. Those complaints were aired at a Friday status hearing over the Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility.
Friday’s hearing was held to gauge progress in meeting steps towards compliance in addressing staffing, security and capital improvements at the territory’s medium security prison.
Chief District Court Judge Wilma Lewis said the impact of two major hurricanes on the V.I. since the last status hearing was hard for those who were not living with day-to-day realities to understand. At the same time the judge acknowledged delays in meeting scheduled improvements.
But lawyers representing U.S. Justice said slow compliance was the least of their concerns. They pointed to a prison escape, two deaths where log entries were hidden from federal monitors, and a suicide attempt since the last status hearing was held in July.
The 14th status report in the Golden Grove consent decree was filed with the court on March 23.
Lewis told attorney Marlysha Myrthil there were some matters which, while serious, were not within the court’s scope in this matter.
Myrthil pointed to pages from the prison log book around the time of the two deaths, one in early September, the other in January. Several days worth of log entries were only found when federal monitors appeared on the premises at Golden Grove and dug into the files.
The judge said she wanted federal attorneys to keep prison officials accountable and to keep bringing their concerns to the court. But Lewis said she could not go along with complaints over the disciplinary actions BOC officials took in response.
“I want to be clear as to where the court is going to be looking and where the court is not going to be looking,” Lewis said.
If prison officials chose something short of termination – which is what U.S. Justice lawyers deemed the best action – the court could not take sides.
Lewis told Mythil to “continue being as diligent as you have in the past.”
It took several hours for attorneys representing BOC and the U.S. Justice Department Division of Civil Rights to cover progress in meeting the latest compliance steps. Staffing posed a particular problem.
None of the candidates that sat for the civil service exam to fill vacancies passed the test. The administrative investigator hired before the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September reneged on the agreement afterward and decided not to take the job.
Qualified candidates are still being sought to fill nursing positions and a vacancy for clinical psychologist.
Prison officials said they hope for better outcomes when the next round of prison guard tests are held April 19.
Capital improvements to Golden Grove’s perimeter fence are still pending, although Gov. Kenneth Mapp authorized spending to complete the work. Damp conditions in the medical exam room since the hurricanes have left the area in need of mold mitigation.
Despite damage to the prison kitchen, BOC officials said food services can still be conducted there. The prison also faces delays in installing the security system. That work was supposed to have taken place in December.
Additional complications occurred when inmates from the Criminal Justice Complex on St. Thomas were moved to GGACF because of staff shortages there and other complications.
The chief judge said she expected to see greater progress when the next status hearing takes place.
Complaints about conditions at Golden Grove have been the subject of federal lawsuits dating back to 1986. An agreement leading to a consent decree was reached five years ago.