June 27, 2008 — There will be a new director of Corrections soon, Attorney General Vincent Frazer told the Senate Finance Committee Thursday.
"We have narrowed down the selection of a director of Corrections to one person," he said at a budget hearing in Frederiksted. "I am ready to make that recommendation to the governor. We are also ready to open the recruitment for wardens."
Frazer came before the Finance Committee to defend the Department of Justice budget request for the upcoming year. Gov. John deJongh Jr.'s administration is recommending a total budget of $45.7 million. Of that amount, $40 million would come from the territory's general fund and $5.7 million from federal funds.
Slightly more than half of its funding goes to the Bureau of Corrections, Frazer said. That will presumably change in future years since the Legislature passed a bill to split Corrections off as a separate entity.
Meanwhile, Corrections is a very challenging division, with two federal consent decrees demanding improvements. But progress is being made, according to Frazer.
"We believe we can now implement a strategy to get our prisons and jails up to constitutional levels," he said.
Medical care and mental health care are major concerns, and there is a "dire need for nurses," he said.
To meet the need, Corrections is hiring part time nurses and sending mentally ill inmates to facilities off island, both of which are expensive. For a more permanent solution, officials are talking with the Department of Health about having it take over medical services at the Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility and about the need for a local mental health care facility.
"If we are able to accomplish this integration, it will save this government millions of dollars," he said.
Hiring corrections officers is a serious challenge as well, Frazer said. While there is a need for close to 90 officers, only three have been added over the past year.
"It is a serious challenge to recruit individuals who are able to successfully pass the examinations and complete the eight week training program," he said. "Certainly the salary of $24,500 does not help our efforts."
To make it easier, Frazer is working with the Division of Personnel to see about lowering the passing test score for recruitment, train and coach the candidates, then test them again, requiring the higher passing score before starting work.
One of the Justice Department's main functions is prosecuting criminals. Frazer said there are now 23 prosecutors and they intend to increase that to 30.
Violent crime remains a serious problem, Frazer noted.
"We continue to note a trend that 25 percent of the criminal cases filed in the territory are domestic violence cases," he said. There were 72 cases filed on St. Thomas and 61 on St. Croix last year, he said. For homicide, murder and rape, there were 44 cases filed on St. Thomas and 24 on St. Croix.
So far this fiscal year, there have been 62 domestic violence cases on St. Croix and 33 on St. Thomas. For homicide, robbery and rape, the figure is 17 on St. Thomas and 12 on St. Croix.
No votes were taken during the hearing.
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