July 12, 2004 – A major power outage at the Alexander Farrelly Justice Complex late Friday led to a sweltering weekend for inmates and prison guards at the St. Thomas jail.
Despite the efforts of electrical contractors over three days, the prospects for restoring power remained uncertain Monday night, and Attorney General Iver Stridiron said if there is no relief soon, he will have the 75 prisoners at the jail flown to the Golden Grove Correction Facility on St. Croix.
According to Attorney General Iver Stridiron, the failure of a water line led to flooding in the basement of the complex on the downtown St. Thomas waterfront where the electrical components were kept. The circuits shorted out late Friday night. The first attempt at restoring power was half-way successful. By Sunday most of the power to the police station and the Territorial Court building, which is part of the Farrelly complex. was back.
Then, Stridiron said, the power failed again.
"The conditions are intolerable," he said Monday. "I went in there Sunday morning about 11 o'clock, and within three minutes I was drenched. So you could imagine the corrections officers who have to work in that environment, as well as the inmates."
A simple solution would have been to move the downtown jail inmates to the Corrections Bureau annex in Sub Base. However, the annex is closed for renovations.
The next solution was access to the jailhouse roof. Stridiron made a personal appeal to all to be on their best behavior in exchange for trips to the roof to get some fresh air. The inmates were willing, and the guards provided escort. Stridiron said the prisoners' cooperation made a difficult situation better.
Engineers, meanwhile, found themselves needing to come up with replacement parts for the electrical system that were not available on-island. There may be just one other ready-made electrical panel like the one that was damaged in the basement flood. Stridiron said the search had extended all the way to Florida. If that search proves unsuccessful, a new panel will have to be custom built.
If Corrections Bureau officials decide to move the inmates to St. Croix, there will be another complication. Under normal circumstances, the Justice Department would use its own airplane to transport the prisoners, but in a month where nothing seems to be going right for the bureau, the plane is temporarily out of service, too. "We've had to fly that up to Florida for its regular maintenance checkup, so that's not available," Stridiron said.
If necessary, he said, he will call on the V.I. National Guard to provide the needed airlift.
The building problems at the St. Thomas jail come less than a month after a 24-hour lockdown took place at Golden Grove following a sickout staged by prison guards. A few days later, two inmates broke out of jail. One was captured quickly; the other remains at large.
"It has been a challenging couple of weeks for the Department of Justice and especially the Bureau of Corrections," Stridiron said.
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