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Bureau of Corrections Budgets $37 Million for FY 2024; Hopes to End Costly Consent Decrees

Bureau of Corrections Director Wynnie Testamark shares her testimony before the 35th Legislature. (Photo courtesy of the USVI Legislature)

Bureau of Corrections Director Wynnie Testamark testified that $37.4 million in General Fund appropriation was proposed by Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. for the bureau for the 2024 fiscal year.

According to Testamark, the FY 2024 budget is a $237,606 or 0.64 percent increase from the FY 2023  budget. Additionally, the bureau spent almost one million dollars in grants for FY 2023. Testamark said for FY 2024, $345,000 is estimated to be used. However, eight years worth of federal grant funds were found unused and a few million is anticipated to be put to use.

“The bureau has identified and is in the process of drawing down over $3.8 million in grants that have already been earmarked for various projects over the past four fiscal years,” said Testamark.

The three highest allocations of the budget are for payroll, fringe benefits, and vendor payments. According to the corrections director, their projected payroll for the upcoming fiscal year is $15.3 million, with fringe benefits estimated at $6.8 million. Vendor payments account for $14.5 million of the budget, with the largest portion going to house and feed off-island prisoners.

“Since my tenure began, the bureau has reduced accounts payables owed to vendors by roughly 90 percent,” said Testamark.

However, committee chair Sen. Donna Frett-Gregory cautioned Testamark to look into remaining balances with the Roy Schneider Hospital.

“The hospitals indicated that you owe them upwards of three-hundred something thousand dollars,” said Frett-Gregory.

“They have not brought us anything from previous years detailing what the agency owes,” replied Testamark.

But Frett-Gregory urged Testamark and her team to look into the matter after receiving notice that there is a balance.

Moreso, the 2024 budget includes $800,000 for consent decree matters. According to Testamark, the bureau is a party to two separate consent decrees for both the Farrelly and Bell facilities. Many senators appeared unhappy when discussing what  Gittens labeled “a money-making scheme.”

“We have spent over one hundred million dollars on consent decrees in the territory,” said Frett-Gregory.

“The goal is for us to come from under these costly consent decrees,” said Testamark. She added that the bureau is “working collaboratively with the monitors in both places…and staying focused on really what the consent decree is all about,” with more emphasis on mental health and training. She anticipates a solution to the decrees in three years.

“We are working on making improvements in our three underperforming categories, which are percentages of vacancies filled, percent of inmates participating in re-entry services, and percent of inmates and detainees participating in educational or vocational programs,” said Testamark.

Sen. Kenneth Gittens questions the testifiers from the Bureau of Corrections. (Photo courtesy of the USVI Legislature)

Many senators applauded the bureau for implementing programs that can provide inmates with vocational and educational skills that would help them assimilate into society once released.

Sen. Johnson inquired about off island prisoners that are in facilities on the mainland.

According to Testamrk, as of July 15, the Corrections Bureau houses 236 inmates locally (76 at the Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex and 160 at John A. Bell). Of the inmates housed locally, 227 are male, and nine are female. Additionally, 148 inmates are housed at mainland facilities (83 at CoreCivic in Florida, 39 at three prisons in Virginia, and 26 in Mississippi)

Regarding officers currently, there are 35 officers in St. Thomas and 50 in St. Croix. For the upcoming fiscal year, the bureau has 260 budgeted positions, 86 of which are vacant. The vacant positions include a physician, ten registered nurses, seven licensed practical nurses, two dental hygienists, six mental health professionals to include a forensic psychiatrist, a psychologist, a mental health professional, and a social worker, 18 corrections officers, five sergeants, and three lieutenants.

Sens. Frett-Gregory, Marvin Bylden, Diane Capehart, Dwayne DeGraff, Ray Fonseca, Novelle Francis, Kenneth Gittens, Javan James, Franklin Johnson, Carla Joseph, and Milton Potter were in attendance at Tuesday’s hearing.

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