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Attorney General: Jails Need Immediate Fix to Avoid Serious Consequences

Feb. 20, 2008 — V.I. jails need to have facilities for the mentally ill in the next four months or face sanctions, contempt of court and possibly federal takeover, Attorney General Vincent Frazer told the Rules and Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
Frazer testified on a bill to establish a separate Bureau of Correction, partly implementing the governor's recent decision to split the Bureau of Corrections off from the Department of Justice.
"I do not object to separating Corrections," Frazer said. "However, I do not believe the shift should begin immediately."
He suggested 2010 as a plausible deadline. The more immediate issue, he said, is the problem of inadequate health care for the mentally ill in V.I. prisons and two federal consent decrees mandating the territory fix the problem immediately. He urged the senate to pass legislation to add a forensic psychiatric unit to the prison system to help place the mentally ill in off-island facilities.
"The problem has plagued the territory for many years," Frazer said. "This administration has solved it by finding care in facilities off island. But, senators, it is a very expensive proposition. You can expect cost increases of $2 million annually for the custody of mentally ill offenders off island."
Fixing all the problems at the Bureau of Corrections would cost millions more and require hiring medical staff, purchasing medical materials and supplies, he said.
"Our system in the prison has been described as a third-world medical system," Frazer said. "We are unable to recruit sufficient doctors and nurses."
Concerns over pay levels, working conditions and safety all hamper recruitment, he said.
The committee passed amendments to the bill adding an appropriation of $1.5 million to hire 60 corrections officers and smaller sums to begin setting up an independent Bureau of Corrections, then passed the bill as amended on for consideration by the full Senate. Voting yes on the amendment and bill were Sens. Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Shawn-Michael Malone, Carmen Wesselhoft, Celestino White and Alvin Williams, while no votes came from Sens. Usie Richards and James Weber III. All committee members were present.
Rules sent on a bill increasing the cap on non-monetary damages in auto accidents to $100,000, up from the current $75,000 cap. This increase would probably not have much impact on insurance policies in the territory, according to insurance attorney Henry Feuerzeig. He testified for his client, Lloyd's of London, the largest underwriter of auto insurance in the territory. But a larger increase in the cap could raise premiums or reduce the availability of auto insurance. John McDonald, V.I. director of Banking and Insurance, concurred.
The bill passed with White the sole "no" vote. Richards said he and White will offer an amendment in the form of a substitute, eliminating the liability cap altogether, when the bill is debated in the full Senate.
The committee unanimously approved a bill allowing the Public Finance Authority to manage the investment portfolios of all government entities and semi-autonomous authorities.
"What I like about this measure is it consolidates costs and cuts down on repetition and duplication of expenses," Malone said.
A bill to authorize the purchase of 14 acres of land by Creque Dam on St. Croix, owned by John Tranberg, was held in committee by default because of lack of a motion for a vote.
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