March 23, 2006 — A U.S. district judge found the V.I. government in contempt Thursday and ordered a federal monitor to fix "constitutional violations" at the Golden Grove prison on St. Croix.
Judge George W. Cannon Jr. said the Virgin Islands was in violation of a 1986 order to resolve unconstitutional medical, sanitation and safety conditions at the prison, where an inmate Tuesday was stabbed to death and five others were injured in a brawl.
In his 32-page order, Cannon wrote, "the court concludes that there are continuing and ongoing constitutional violations of the rights of individuals held at Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility and Detention Center, and (the) defendants are in contempt of the court's orders."
Attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department asked Cannon to appoint the federal monitor, called a special master, to resolve lingering problems at the prison, calling conditions there "deplorable."
V.I. Attorney General Kerry Drue argued that the prison was improving and a special master was not needed.
Drue demoted then-Corrections Director Joseph Ponteen after he testified to myriad problems at the prison and described it as a "nightmare." Ponteen said he needed more money and 100 extra guards to improve conditions at the 600-inmate facility.
Neither Drue nor the U.S. Justice Department could be immediately reached for comment on Cannon's ruling.
The special master will report any violations at the prison to the court, where a judge may issue an order to fix them, Cannon said.
The U.S. and territorial governments have 20 days to submit names of five special master candidates. Cannon said they cannot be V.I. government employees.
Only a U.S. district judge can fire the special master, Cannon said.
A judge can dissolve the position if he or she thinks the territory is in compliance with the 1986 agreement and is capable of running the prison itself again.
"Substantial compliance means (the) defendants … have consistently complied with this order … and will continue to operate Golden Grove pursuant to this order …," Cannon said.
He ordered the V.I. government to deposit $100,000 with the court to cover the special master's fees and expenses.
In a separate case, a federal judge in St. Thomas has twice found the V.I. government in contempt for failing to improve prison conditions as mandated by a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union 11 years ago.
Those violations include imprisoning people found not guilty by reason of insanity or unfit to stand trial at Golden Grove or the Criminal Justice Complex in Charlotte Amalie.
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