The first 10 of 90 Virgin Islands prisoners being held in federal institutions on the mainland were returned to the territory Monday.
According to V.I. Attorney General Iver Stridiron, 11 inmates were returned, with one headed to Puerto Rico to do time because he is serving both V.I. and federal sentences. The 10 and all of the other inmates, scheduled to be arriving in groups through the end of October, will be housed at the expanded Golden Grove Prison on St. Croix.
The group that arrived on St. Croix Monday were identified by Stridiron as Moses Augusto, Neal Daniel, Jeffrey Dowdy, Dwayne Hunte, Eurle Joseph, Johnnie Kidd, Keithroy Martin, Tracy Natta, Verne O’flaherty and Ellud Richard.
Prisoners convicted of crimes in the territory have been incarcerated on the mainland because of deteriorated conditions and overcrowding documented in a lawsuit filed by inmates in the early 1990s. Because of the lawsuit and a subsequent agreement with the federal government, the V.I. government was forced to send a number of high-risk convicts to Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities on the mainland until the Golden Grove Prison was expanded. Originally, the prisoners were supposed to be gone six months.
The ongoing cost of housing the prisoners off-island is $189,000 a month, Stridiron said. The territory's failure to make timely payments has resulted in a current debt of $10 million owed the federal government. Because of the lack of payment, the debt was turned over to the U.S. Treasury Department for collection earlier this year. Toward paying down the debt, Treasury diverted $1.6 million in federal highway funds that were headed to the territory.
According to Turnbull administration officials, the territory has paid some $4 million toward the debt in the last 15 to 20 months. Those payments, along with the $1.6 million diverted by Treasury, were credited to the V.I. government.
In a release Monday, Stridiron said that with the return of the V.I. prisoners, the "Federal Bureau of Prisons and United States Attorney General Janet Reno may look with favor on the Virgin Islands’ request that the $10 million currently owed . . . be forgiven."
Meantime, Stridiron has said that a number of Corrections Bureau officers have retired recently, creating a staffing shortfall. With the return of hard-core convicts, he said, he will make a supplemental budget request from the Legislature to allow for new hiring.
Fifteen new guards have been hired, he said, and 20 to 30 more are needed.

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