Lieutenant Governor Osbert Potter and Bureau of Corrections Director Rick Mullgrav visited the Saguaro Correctional Facility in Eloy, Ariz., which houses 63 Virgin Islands inmates, while in Arizona at the National Lieutenant Governor’s Association Business Meeting last week. The purpose of the site visit was to conduct an assessment on the quality of housing and treatment being provided to V.I. inmates, according to Government House.
At a joint press conference March 8, Mapp and Mullgrav announced the just-completed transfer of 105 Golden Grove male inmates: 67 to correctional center in Arizona and 38 to a prison in Citrus County, Fla., where the cost of housing them is about half the $150 a day it costs locally. Both prisons are privately owned, for-profit facilities, operated by the Corrections Corporation of America. The Citrus County facility already had some other V.I. prisoners.
The move essentially emptied Golden Grove. There are now 257 Virgin Islanders in stateside prisons. Only 52 inmates remain on St. Croix and they are staying; workers employed by Corrections or performing jobs in the community as part of the work release program.
Detainees who awaiting trial and/or sentencing are housed on St. Thomas.
The use of private prisons and sending prisoners out of the territory are not without controversy. Some have raised concerns about the pay and conditions in private prisons, as well as their financial incentives to increase incarceration. Family members of inmates were also upset at being unable to visit their relatives.
The V.I. prison in Golden Grove on St. Croix is currently under a federal consent decree over conditions and security there. Emptying the prison makes it easier to fix problems at the facility while saving the cash-strapped government money, officials said.
There have been incidents at the Saguaro facility in Arizona. In July 2010, an employee at Saguaro was attacked by prisoners in a gang brawl. In 2010, 18 Saguaro inmates sued the establishment, alleging they were stripped, beaten and forced to stand in the cold by guards trying to make them inform on fellow prisoners involved in a gang fight.
Several prison murders over recent years at Saguaro drew widespread media attention and helped convince Hawaii officials to begin withdrawing inmates from the facility, which was originally opened to accommodate prisoners from Hawaii.
The Golden Grove Adult Correction Facility has also had violence and other issues.
Saguaro officials gave Potter and Mullgrav a tour of the prison and Potter said he was pleased with the overall structure of the facility, which he has described as modern, according to Government House.’
However, Potter expressed concern over some matters regarding the Virgin Islands inmates.
“I had an opportunity to speak with many of the inmates one on one and in group settings. After those discussions, there were a lot of issues that were troubling to me and that I will be following up on, as far as the inmates’ complaints are concerned," Potter said.
Some of the concerns included diet, employment opportunities, skills and training opportunities, religious rights and privileges, health and treatment. Potter said there were conflicting details between what the prison officials said and what the inmates said.
Potter will be traveling out of the territory again Friday to attend the National Association of Insurance Commissioners fall meeting in Miami. During that time, he will join Mullgrav at a visit to the Citrus County Detention Center, which houses 112 V.I. inmates. After returning, Potter will issue a statement outlining his findings and recommendations regarding both visits. Potter will return to the territory Dec. 17.