ACLU Calls On Federal Judge To Levy Sanctions Against Virgin Islands Officials For Failing To Improve Jail Conditions

May 28, 2009 12:00 am

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Orders For Improvement Have Gone Unheeded For 13 Years

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ST. THOMAS, VI – The American Civil Liberties Union today will ask a federal judge to enact additional sanctions against top government officials in the Virgin Islands for failing to improve the conditions at the Virgin Islands Criminal Justice Complex (CJC), despite standing court orders.

During court hearings beginning today and continuing next Tuesday, June 2, Eric Balaban, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU National Prison Project, will address reports compiled by corrections and psychiatric experts that reveal prisoners have been beaten by corrections officers, that contraband – including weapons, phones and drugs – are readily available throughout the jail and that seriously mentally ill prisoners are left essentially untreated.

“The continued lack of commitment by officials in the Virgin Islands to improving the conditions in the jail is unconscionable,” Balaban said. “The total lack of control and care inside of the CJC creates an environment where violence and disciplinary incidents are inevitable, and where the lives and safety of prisoners and staff are at risk.”

During the two days of hearings, corrections expert Steve Martin and psychiatric expert Jeffrey Metzner, M.D., will testify about their findings from recent expert tours of CJC. Among other things, Martin is expected to testify that the jail does not maintain adequate or sufficiently trained staff to carry out basic security functions, the jail’s security systems do not work and jail officials do not investigate alleged incidents of excessive force and discipline staff when appropriate. Prisoners are also denied the most basic right of due process, because the jail does not have a reliable disciplinary system.

According to the report by Metzner – a mental health expert who has been monitoring the mental health services at CJC for more than four years – the jail does not provide mental health treatment or housing for mentally ill prisoners, who are disciplined rather than treated for behaviors that are likely a product of their mental illness.

Dr. Metzner is also expected to testify about the plight of Jonathan Ramos, a seriously mentally ill prisoner who was kept on constant lock down at the jail for four years despite a court order that he be moved to a stateside psychiatric hospital for treatment. Mr. Ramos was moved to a Florida facility early last year, but then Virgin Islands government officials simply lost track of him. He was eventually found sleeping in a public park by Miami police, unable to speak and actively psychotic.

“Immediate intervention is essential to ensure that prisoners are getting the mental and medical health care that they are constitutionally entitled to,” said Benjamin Currence, co-counsel in the case. “The failure of the government to respond to court orders mandating that effective care be provided continues to jeopardize the lives of prisoners.”

Prison officials in the Virgin Islands have ignored for more than 13 years repeated orders by federal judge Stanley Brotman to make specific improvements in virtually every aspect of operations and conditions at the CJC and the CJC Annex. The Virgin Islands government has been held in contempt four times during that time and is currently operating under two separate contempt sanctions.

In the most recent contempt decision issued in February 2007, Brotman found there was no mental health care system at the CJC, that leadership within the Bureau of Corrections and Department of Justice had repeatedly flouted court deadlines and broken promises to improve health care services and that seriously ill prisoners had languished at the jail essentially untreated as a result.

A copy of Metzner’s report is available online at: www.aclu.org/prison/conditions/39681lgl20090320.html

A copy of Martin’s report is available online at: www.aclu.org/prison/conditions/39680lgl20090323.html

Additional information about the ACLU National Prison Project is available online at: www.aclu.org/prison

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