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Corrections Bureau Sanctioned For Paying Fed Monitor Late

A federal judge sanctioned the V.I. Bureau of Corrections for repeatedly being late paying a court appointed monitor who is overseeing a federal court settlement on problems at Golden Grove prison, according to court documents. The sanction includes a relatively small monetary fine of $1,000, or $250 for each day the most recent bill was late. And it imposes $250 a day fines for any future tardy payments.

In her opinion explaining the sanctions, [Golden Grove Sanctions Opinion] U.S. District Judge Wilma Lewis said the Bureau "appears to be proceeding with utter disregard of, and completely unfazed by, the Court’s articulation of its expectations regarding the timely payment of the Monitor," and repeated urgent warnings and threats of sanctions.

"It is quite apparent that the Bureau of Corrections, its Director Julius Wilson, and its counsel are not attaching to the payment of the Monitor the sense of urgency that this Court has ordered and the circumstances here require," Lewis wrote, concluding "there is no other way to coerce Defendants into compliance than to impose monetary sanctions."

Corrections had blamed the delay on a glitch in the Finance Department and argued in its initial response to the motion for sanctions that it should not be held in contempt for actions taken by those it does not control.

But at a Dec. 10 hearing, the Bureau retracted that, saying instead that it was due to a series of delays at the Bureau of Corrections, according to Lewis’ opinion.

The Bureau is now saying it got the invoice Oct. 9, and "thirteen days later — Director Wilson approved the invoice … . Then, for some unexplained reason, the invoice remained in the Business Office for eight days … before it was sent to the Department of Property and Procurement," Lewis wrote. After Property and Procurement processed the purchase order, rather than enter it into the Bureau of Corrections system the same day for payment, as prison officials said would be normal procedure, "it was not until eight days later … that the purchase order was entered into a queue for payment," Lewis wrote.

In a footnote, Lewis said Wilson told the court the invoice was not approved until Oct. 22 because he was out of the territory for a family emergency. Wilson "informed the Court that there was no one at the Bureau of Corrections who could act in his stead approving the invoice," Lewis wrote.

The monitor and sanctions arise out of a settlement with the federal government concerning conditions at the Golden Grove prison.

Since 1986, Golden Grove has operated under a federal consent decree requiring the territory to bring the prison up to constitutional standards. A 1990 plan of compliance and a 2003 stipulated agreement followed the consent decree, but problems have persisted, money is in short supply and the prison has had difficulty hiring, training and keeping enough corrections officers, among other issues.

Since 2003, the U.S. District Court for the Virgin Islands has issued several compliance orders directing Corrections to take specific security measures, hire new health care professionals, provide specific mental, medical and dental services, and eliminate specific fire and safety hazards, among other detailed directives.

Since August 2012, the U.S. government proposed a new settlement agreement, and both sides agreed to select Kenneth Ray of Justice Services LLC as an independent monitor to issue regular compliance reports.

The reports have concluded again and again that little progress is being made but Corrections and the V.I. government are making a good faith effort. (See Related Links below.)

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