One of the first things Bureau of Corrections Director Rick Mullgrav said he thought about after being appointed director was that it would be good to get the perspective of outside experts on the state of the bureau’s operation and facilities.He contacted National Institute of Corrections.
The NIC is an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Prisons. It provides training, technical assistance, information services and policy/program development assistance to corrections agencies.
Mulgrav said Friday there were some delays and budget concerns in getting NIC to come to the Virgin Islands but the team made it this week. Its representatives were in the Virgin Islands inspecting correction facilities on St. Thomas and St. Croix and talking to corrections staff.
On Friday the team wrapped up its visit by presenting to the public on St. Croix some of its observations, assessments and recommendations. Karen Albert, NIC consultant, emphasized that the team had only been on St. Croix a “whopping 48 hours” and certainly did not learn everything about Corrections’ facilities and operations.
She said the direction the V.I. Bureau of Corrections goes needs to be determined based on local decisions. When asked directly whether a new prison should be built, Albert and her partner David Bostwick both said more information would be needed before such a decision could be made.
The event Friday was billed as a town hall meeting.But, in fact, the audience of about a dozen and a half was almost entirely made up with employees of the corrections bureau.
One recommendation that Bostwick did make was that the Bureau of Corrections take a good look at how inmates are “reintegrated back into the community.” He pointed out that inmates who don’t successfully reintegrate into the community most likely will become inmates again. He said the reintegration process can be helped with halfway houses, work release programs and vocational changes.
The most critical comment about the facilities came from Albert. She said, “The women’s unit on St. Croix was the crappiest I saw. I will go on record saying it was crappy.”
She also said that Golden Grove was very hot. She said when you treat the prisoners like animals, you can only expect them to act like animals.
A corrections official in the audience said he agreed with her. He said he noticed a lot more disciplinary problems during hot days. Originally the prison was to be air-conditioned but, reportedly, when funding ran low, the air conditioning was scrapped.
After the meeting, Mulgrav said that exhaust and blower fans have been ordered for Golden Grove and should be installed within the coming month to alleviate the temperature problems there. Many prisoners have small fans in their cells.
Albert said the blades on these fans are potential weapons.
Golden Grove is holding about 160 prisoners and Criminal Justice Complex on St. Thomas is holding 60, according to Mulgrav.
Much of the discussion at the presentation in the Cardiac Care Center concerned the housing of the mentally ill. Albert said that the community must decide for itself whether the prison is the best place for the mentally ill to be housed or should other arrangements be made.
Albert said that putting in more cameras is not an answer to maintaining better supervision ofprisoners. She said the average human can monitor a camera for about seven minutes before their mind wanders.
Bostwick said that the Virgin Islands system is unique. In the states, county jails systems feed the state prison system. In the Virgin Islands, it is like the county jails and prison system are combined.
The one unit of Golden Grove that did receive kudos from the team was the new medical unit.
Mulgrav said he found the presentation very informative. He said he agreed with the assessment recommendation that more should be done to help inmates reintegrate when it comes time for their release back into society. He concluded, “This is all about making progress.”
Golden Grove operated under a federal consent decree for close to 30 years. That consent decree resulted in a three-year settlement agreement that is presently guiding local correction officials.
Compliance with the agreement was not part of the discussions by the NIC team. The cost of the NIC assessment was assumed by the federal government. No local funds were expended.