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Corrections Director Demoted After Critical Remarks

Feb. 24, 2006 – Attorney General Kerry Drue demoted Joseph Ponteen, acting Bureau of Corrections director, saying he was ineffective and unable to make minor improvements at the Golden Grove prison.
The demotion, however, comes two weeks after Ponteen contradicted Drue's comparatively rosy assessment of the 600-inmate prison while testifying in District Court.
Ponteen called the prison "a nightmare" of problems, saying he welcomed help from any source – including the U.S. Department of Justice, which seeks to install a federal monitor to ensure improvements.
Ponteen, acting director since early 2005, said the prison was under-funded and needed 100 additional corrections officers to comply with a 1986 suit settlement with the federal government mandating prison improvements.
Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice used Ponteen's testimony to argue that District Court Magistrate Judge George W. Cannon Jr. should find the Virgin Islands in contempt of court and appoint a special master to monitor the prison, with the ability to impose fines if the V.I. Government doesn't improve the prison.
Drue rebuffed the assessment of the prisons.
"They are certainly not the nightmare the United States urges the court to believe," Drue said.
Judge Cannon was expected to rule on the request for a monitor next month.
In a press release, Drue said Ponteen neglected his duties at the prison and that she took care of problems there herself:
"Ponteen repeatedly failed to implement easily attainable improvements to the working and living conditions at Golden Grove," Drue said. "For example, he took no action to address the problem of the lack of hot water in Golden Grove's medical unit."
Ponteen was demoted Wednesday to his previous position as an assistant attorney general in the St. Croix criminal division, Drue said.
"This personnel change is part of the continuous effort to significantly improve the operations," Drue said.
Ponteen was not immediately available for comment.

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