July 19, 2004 – A federal judge told attorneys for the Virgin Islands and the American Civil Liberties Union he would order the territory on Monday or Tuesday to move inmates found not guilty by reason of insanity from the Golden Grove Correctional Facility to a psychiatric treatment institution.
Judge Stanley S. Brotman of 3rd District Court, in a hearing via telephone conference call connecting New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and the Virgin Islands, also said he would order the government to file a progress report by September on the building of a psychiatric facility able to house such individuals.
In addition, he said he plans to order that construction of the Central Justice Complex Annex on St. Thomas be finished by Nov. 1.
"We thought that the housing of NGRIs [persons found not guilty by reason of insanity] was a crisis and had to be taken care of immediately," ACLU lawyer Eric Balaban said by telephone from Washington.
V.I. Assistant Attorney General Richard Schrader said the government has taken steps to comply with the impending orders, having contracted with a Puerto Rico hospital to take custody of six inmates found not guilty by reason of insanity. The government also has started cleaning up an abandoned prison near Estate Anna's Hope on St. Croix that it hopes to renovate for use as a psychiatric hospital for about 25 inmates thought to have chronic mental illness.
Reconstruction at the Central Justice Complex Annex on St. Thomas should be completed by November, Schrader said.
The ACLU first filed a class-action suit against the V.I. government a decade ago to stop what it charged were civil-rights violations against inmates ranging from lack of sanitation to physical and psychological abuse of mentally ill inmates.
Since then, the government has been found in contempt of court three times because many of the violations have yet to be remedied.
Brotman found the government in contempt for failing to screen and treat prisoners for communicable disease, drug addiction and mental illness. He also found that the prison failed to:
– Ensure that electric control panels for cell locks work correctly.
– Install fire-prevention equipment and establish evacuation plans.
– Provide access to a current legal library.
– Comply with a host of other mandates in the 1994 consent decree signed with the ACLU.
"(The) defendants repeatedly have been notified of their non-compliance and the resulting hazardous conditions," Brotman wrote in his 2003 contempt ruling.
Brotman has not fined the government, but it has had to pay nearly $700,000 in legal fees to the ACLU and court-appointed monitors.
On St. Thomas, some of the problems at the Central Justice Complex Annex and the complex itself have been resolved, Attorney General Iver Stridiron said.
In 1994, Brotman found that four or five prisoners had regularly been stuffed into cells meant for one or two persons, forcing inmates to sleep on soiled mattresses on the floor. Since then, the population at the complex has been reduced from more than 150 to less than the federally mandated maximum of 97, Stridiron said.
Saying he hoped Brotman would lift the contempt order after a telephone progress report on Monday, Stridiron said the jail is now providing medicine and special meals to prisoners with diabetes and other medical conditions, the prison locks and security cameras have been fixed, and the $1.9 million renovation project at the annex should be complete by September.
However, Balaban said that those found not guilty by reason of insanity are still sent to prison instead of to a psychiatric hospital. "We don't have an expectation that these problems will just magically disappear," he said.
Mentally ill prisoners awaiting trial are kept in a cellblock known as Cluster Three. There, Brotman found in 1994, violence was common, conditions were unsanitary and inmates were forced to disrobe and grab their groins, crawl across the floor or do push-ups in exchange for cigarettes tossed by guards.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name, and the city and state/country or island where you reside.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.