ACLU Calls on Federal Judge to Levy Sanctions Against Virgin Islands Officials for Failing to Improve Jail Conditions

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Will Matthews, (212) 549-2582 or 2666; media@aclu.org

ACLU Calls on Federal Judge to Levy Sanctions Against Virgin Islands Officials for Failing to Improve Jail Conditions

Orders for Improvement Have Gone Unheeded for 13 Years

ST. THOMAS, Virgin Islands - 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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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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