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Judge Finds V.I. Government in Contempt of Court for Treatment of Mentally Ill Prisoners

March 2, 2007 — U.S. District Judge Stanley Brotman in a decision released Tuesday held Gov. John deJongh Jr. and other government officials in contempt of court for failing to provide court-ordered mental health care and appropriate housing for mentally ill prisoners at the territory's jails.
"This is the third contempt citation the government's gotten," St. Thomas attorney Benjamin Currence said Friday.
In his contempt decision, Brotman found that government officials failed to comply with his 2004 and 2006 orders requiring them to transfer four prisoners found not guilty by reason of insanity to an appropriate psychiatric facility.
The judge also held the government in contempt for failing to hospitalize Jonathan Ramos, a seriously mentally ill prisoner who was arrested in 2002 for allegedly trying to steal a bicycle. He remains in jail even though the criminal charges against him were dismissed more than six months ago.
Government House spokesman Jean Greaux on Friday referred questions to acting Attorney General Vincent Frazer.
Frazer said Friday through his secretary that he has not received the order and could not comment.
Currence filed a class action suit in 1994 on behalf of mentally ill prisoners who aren't getting adequate care in the territory's prisons because it has no special facility to treat them.
"There are currently at least five inmates in prisons in the Virgin Islands who are no longer facing criminal charges because they have been found not guilty by reason of insanity," Currence said.
He said those people are not prisoners and shouldn't be punished because they're mentally ill.
He said the Virgin Islands is the only place in the United States that incarcerates people who are mentally ill. He said that in addition to prisoners not competent to stand trial, others needing care were found not guilty by reason of insanity. In both cases, they end up at Golden Grove Correctional Facility or one of the territory's jails.
"It's dangerous for the inmates and dangerous for the people who work there," Currence said.
He said that the workers receive no training on dealing with mentally ill prisoners and the territory's penal facilities are not set up to deal with them.
According to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union, where Currence serves as a co-counsel on this case, Brotman gave officials 30 days to submit a progress report. If it's not forthcoming, Brotman may fine the government.
The ACLU indicated that government officials claim they have nowhere to safely house Ramos and other prisoners found not guilty by reason of insanity. Three years ago then-Attorney General Alva Swan promised to build a facility for chronically mentally ill residents, as well as prisoners who can't be safely housed in the territory's correctional facilities. No such facility was built.
The ACLU press released noted that while the previous administration was responsible for these problems, it's up to deJongh and Frazer to fix them.
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