ACLU Urges Court to Fine Virgin Islands Officials for Indefinitely Detaining Innocent Mentally Ill Inmates

November 30, 2007

After Violating Two Court Orders, Government Should Face Contempt Fines, ACLU Says

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

ST. THOMAS, VI –The American Civil Liberties Union today is urging a federal judge to fine top government officials in the Virgin Islands for not complying with court orders to transfer inmates with mental illness to a psychiatric hospital. The inmates have been found not guilty by reason of insanity, and have been imprisoned for years without any criminal charges or access to appropriate mental health care. 

"The Virgin Islands is the only jurisdiction in the nation that indefinitely imprisons individuals who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity," said Eric Balaban, Senior Staff Counsel of the ACLU’s National Prison Project, who represents inmates in the federal civil rights lawsuit Carty v. DeJongh. "These people are being punished for their mental illness, which is not only unconstitutional, but is also inhumane."

In February 2007, U.S. District Judge Stanley Brotman found the government in contempt of court for violating his transfer order.

The ACLU is also requesting an overhaul of the health care system at the Virgin Islands Criminal Justice Complex (CJC), and is calling on Judge Brotman to appoint a receiver to rebuild the correctional health care system from the ground up. According to Jeffrey Metzner, M.D., the mental health expert who has been monitoring the CJC’s mental health services for three years, the inmates at the CJC are forced to endure unnecessary suffering due to grossly inadequate mental health care. In a report filed with the court last week,  Metzner described the failing health care system in detail, citing numerous cases where the inmates’ health is deteriorating as a result of the abysmal care they receive. 

"More drastic intervention is necessary to implement the desperately needed changes and remedy the significant mental health system problems" at the Criminal Justice Complex, Metzner wrote in the report. "Seriously mentally ill inmates have needlessly suffered" as a result of the government’s failure to abide by the court’s remedial orders, Metzner wrote.

Jonathan Ramos, a 23-year-old inmate with mental illness who was arrested five years ago for allegedly attempting to steal a bicycle, is one of the individuals Metzner examined several times. According to Metzner, Ramos is not getting necessary treatment for his chronic mental illness, and the environment in which he is living is worsening his condition. Ramos no longer recognizes family members and Metzner reported he has been forced to endure "both short-term and long-term suffering" at the CJC due to inadequate treatment and housing. Judge Brotman previously ordered government officials to transfer Ramos to a stateside psychiatric facility for appropriate treatment, but his order has been ignored. Ramos remains locked up at the CJC though the criminal charges against him have been dismissed.

"The health care system at CJC is abysmal and while the government is refusing to abide by the court’s orders, inmates are needlessly suffering," said Balaban. "The government should be forced to comply with the court’s orders, and contempt fines are the last tool available to end the anguish that these mentally ill inmates are suffering."

The Court’s February 2007 contempt decision can be found online at: www.aclu.org/prison/mentalhealth/32920lgl20070201.html

Dr. Metzner’s October 2007 report on mental health care at CJC can be found online at:
wwwaclu.org/prison/mentalhealth/32921lgl20071001.html

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