Judge lauds BOC progress with compliance measures at prison

Judge lauds BOC progress with compliance measures at prison

FREDERIKSTED — A District Court judge largely lauded progress made by the Corrections Bureau towards attaining compliance with a federal consent decree during a status conference this week but cautioned that there was still work to be done.

The John A. Bell Adult Correctional Facility has been under federal consent decree since the U.S. Justice Department began investigating poor conditions at the Golden Grove prison in 1985.

On Thursday, representatives from the Bureau and the U.S. Justice Department convened to discuss the findings outlined in a report released by court-appointed monitors in late March. That report noted progress in some areas and a decline in others.

The Corrections Bureau attained substantial compliance in environmental health and safety and training for new employees but was downgraded to partial compliance in several areas of mental health care and treatment.

The report noted that the Bureau had employed “non-qualified” personnel to perform mental health assessments and treatment. On Thursday, Corrections representatives said a staff member — who is a licensed mental health provider in Florida — is undergoing licensure locally to remedy that problem.

Speaking to some of the challenges faced by the Bureau, lead counsel William Lunsford addressed two areas of partial compliance noted in the report, first pushing back on the finding that the prison is facing a shortage of nurses and medical team members. Lunsford noted that those positions are occupied by staff from Pafford Medical Services and argued that positions filled by contract workers shouldn’t be counted as vacancies.

Addressing the shortage of security staff, Lunsford said conversations regarding the ideal ratio of staff to incarcerated individuals was ongoing. On average, the prison has one security staffer for every 2.88 incarcerated people, Lunsford said — a substantially better ratio than those found in federal or some state prison systems.

Further, Lunsford shared a breakdown of violent incidents that occurred during 2023 and 2024. In all instances, a security staffer was present.

Justice Department attorney Matthew Underwood said later that the department wasn’t looking for a specific number of staff — only the safety of the incarcerated community.

Despite staffing challenges, the conference had an air of optimism, as monitors acknowledged that they foresaw the prison moving into substantial compliance in several areas after their next inspection in November.

By KIT MACAVOY/V.I. Daily News