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Suit Filed Over Conditions at Virgin Islands Criminal Justice Complex

For almost two years, prisoners at Criminal Justice Complex have been locked up for 23 hours a day in overcrowded, filthy, rat and roach infested cells. They are only allowed out for a short period each day to shower and for an hour of recreation twice a week. Cells designed for one person are being used to house four or five, with mattresses on the floor which are frequently soaked by malfunctioning, overflowing toilets. Prisoners eat in their cells, on beds or on the floor. The food is often stale, their drinking water is filtered shower water and is contaminated. There is no running water in the cells other than the toilets, not enough light to read or write by, and the cooling and ventilation systems frequently do not work.

These conditions have brought the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation to join with St. Thomas attorney Benjamin Currence in filing suit on behalf of the prisoners against Governor Farrelly and Bureau of Corrections Directory Aiken and his staff.

In a complaint filed June 20, 1994, the plaintiffs' counsel seek relief from unconstitutional conditions that they claim fall below standards of human decency and deny basic human needs for the 208 men and women, both sentenced prisoners and pretrial detainees, held at CJC.

The complaint describes the serious fire danger to the prisoners who are held on the third floor of a three story building that formerly housed the central police station and holding cells. The only way out in the event of fire is a locked stairway, and no plans for emergency evacuation exist. The electrical system is dangerously defective and exposed electrical wiring is found in some areas that are often flooded.

The extreme overcrowding at the facility increases the risk of transmission of infectious diseases and, when combined with the filthy conditions and lack of adequate air circulation, creates a particular threat for both prisoners and staff from airborne diseases such as tuberculosis. Medical care is grossly inadequate with untrained prison guards determining whether prisoners can see a nurse or physician with the result that serious problems are not diagnosed or treated. Prisoners with chronic diseases are not monitored or treated properly. Mental health care is dangerously deficient. Mentally ill prisoners do not receive proper treatment and are housed in among other prisoners, creating risks for the general population and for the mentally ill who are sometimes taken advantage of and abused. In some cases, staff have beaten mentally ill prisoners who are proving difficult to manage while keeping them handcuffed or shackled to chairs and tables.

The National Prison Project attorneys were originally asked to come to the Virgin Islands by local politicians, journalists and the families of prisoners trying to end the long lockdown. Attorney Mark Lopez says, "Now we have seen the appalling conditions here, we can see that the problems go far deeper than the lockdown. The Bureau of Corrections cannot be allowed to continue to risk the lives and health of the prisoners whose care they are charged with."

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Related legal case

Carty v. Farrelly