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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, December 8, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesSenators Address Prisoner Misconduct at Hearing

Senators Address Prisoner Misconduct at Hearing

Smuggling laptop computers and cell phones into Virgin Island detention centers would become a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison if a law voted on Wednesday by the Committee on Public Safety, Homeland Security and Justice becomes law.

In written testimony, Attorney General Vincent F. Frazer spoke to the danger posed by these electronic devices falling into the hands of detainees.

He said that cell phones give inmates a “direct line to the outside community,” enabling them “to intimidate witnesses, conduct criminal enterprises, intimidate correction officers and engage in other unimaginable activities.”

Julius C. Wilson, director of the V.I. Bureau of Corrections, testified that there was already a rule against bringing cell phones and laptops into the territory’s prisons, but without criminalizing the activity, the bureau was limited in its ability to stop it.

Wilson said he suspects prison employees, contractors and volunteers are smuggling the contraband electronics to detainees and that the bureau has had little luck catching them.

When asked when the last case of a prison employee being busted for smuggling a cell phone was, Wilson indicated that it was about three years ago.

Currently the worst that could happen to a prison employee caught smuggling a cell phone is termination from his job. Inmates found with this contraband would face disciplinary action, but no added jail time.

Wilson believes the threat of jail time will convince smugglers that the illicit trade is not worth the risk.

Sens. Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly, Carlton “Ital” Dowe and Alvin L. Williams, Jr. all took exception to this rationale, arguing that the deeper problem was the bureau’s inability to catch its employees in the act.

Williams said he does support criminalizing the activity, but added, “It comes back to enforcement and intelligence that needs to be done within the prison system. You cannot just expect, because it’s a law and it has serious consequences, that someone is going to cooperate.”

The committee considered a second bill concerning the Bureau of Corrections that would criminalize sexual relations between detainees and prison employees, contractors and volunteers. Violators would face up to 10 years in prison.

Again, the senators expressed support for the bill, but concern for the state of the corrections system that such a law is necessary.

Sen. Sammuel Sanes warned Wilson that he intended to call a hearing to investigate the Bureau of Corrections in the near future.

The committee also considered two bills affecting the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. The first would mandate that the BMV issue disabled person identification cards to people with disabilities who want them as an alternative form of ID.

The second called for a reduced fee for experienced motorcycle operators (from $150 to $75) and a larger fee of $300 for novice riders who are determined to need additional training.

The bill also would remove the requirement for the BMV to approve helmets, face shields and goggles worn by those operating motor vehicles and allow the bureau to defer to established federal safety ratings.

The final bill considered by the committee sought to clarify language in the V.I. Code regarding the sale of alcohol to minors and to close loopholes in the law.

“While Virgin Islands Code Title 14, Section 485 makes it mandatory for all night clubs, bars or dance halls selling alcoholic beverages to post a sign stating that it is a violation of law to sell alcoholic beverages to minors, the code does not specifically state that it is illegal to sell alcoholic beverages to minors,” said Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Wayne Biggs Jr. in his testimony.

“Merchants are aware of the loophole in the law,” he continued. “Needless to say, this proposed legislation is long overdue.”

The bill would make it illegal to sell alcohol to minors or to have minors serve alcohol at restaurants and bars. It would also make parents criminally liable if they knowingly allow their children to drink and then operate a motor vehicle.

Sens. Sanes, O’Reilly, Dowe and Williams voted in favor of all five bills. Sens. Usie R. Richards, Celestino A. White and Ronald E. Russell were absent.

All five bills will now be sent to the Rules Committee.

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