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Sunday, May 26, 2024


Oct. 29, 2001 — A federal judge said Monday that he believes officials are making great progress toward bringing the two jails on St. Thomas up to constitutional standards.
Also on Monday, District Judge Stanley Brotman signed an order that will set up a bank account for all money that the U.S. Marshals Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service turn over to the V.I. government for jail infrastructure.
Those funds now stand at about $500,000 a year but could double after the Sub Base Annex jail is completed later this year. The money will be earmarked for improvements and maintenance of the jails at the Criminal Justice Complex and the Sub Base Annex that could bring the facilities up to constitutional standards.
In the past, money from the two federal agencies has gone into the General Fund and has not been used to make court-ordered improvements to the jail, according to Horace Magras, Bureau of Corrections director.
"We've gone about 1,000 miles today," Brotman said Monday after signing the order to set up the separate account. "Everyone is looking for one thing — to put this jail back on a constitutional basis. I don't think it's too far away that I can sign this order to turn it back over to you."
The V.I. government has been under federal orders since 1994 to address unconstitutional prison conditions at the jail, housed on the third floor of the Alexander A. Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex on the St. Thomas waterfront, and the jail annex in Sub Base. Although major progress has been made over the years — such as addressing the extreme overcrowding that plagued the downtown jail in the past — Brotman found the V.I. government in contempt of court earlier this year for not taking the steps necessary to bring the jails up to minimum standards.
On Monday, Brotman led Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and other top officials on a tour of the two jails and later held a court hearing on the progress that has been made and what still needs to be done. Brotman said he was pleased for the most part with what he's seen, and that he hopes to relinquish his oversight of the jail system in the near future.
"I'm impressed with the aesthetics of the jail," he said, adding that it was cleaner than before and that the guards seemed more disciplined and professional than in the past.
Attorney General Iver Stridiron said the separate bank account will allow prison officials to address pressing needs such as paying for inmates' medicines, carrying out maintenance work and improving fire safety, all of which have been ongoing problems.
Magras said it may be possible to make the additional improvements necessary to get the court order lifted within a year.
But while the judge and prison officials seemed enthusiastic about the progress, Eric Balaban of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, which represents inmates in their case against the V.I. government, said improvements have taken far too long.
"This is a minor step. What's lacking here is will," Balaban said, noting that the Virgin Islands prison case is by far the smallest that the ACLU is involved in, and yet, after seven years of court orders, the jails still are under the oversight of the District Court.
"This should have been resolved years ago," he said. "It's an embarrassment."
Balaban said he hoped prison officials would now take seriously their responsibility for getting the jails up to constitutional standards. He noted that Turnbull and other officials are still under a contempt of court order.
Much of Monday's hearing centered on issues of improving fire safety at the Criminal Justice Complex, improving ventilation and taking steps to ensure that inmates get their medicines.

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