Prison Bureau Seeks Permission to Skip Steps on Jail Reform

Alexander Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex

The challenge of managing the mentally ill behind bars led officials from the Bureau of Corrections to ask a federal court to let them skip items on a list of mandated compliance steps.

BOC officials said they cannot achieve those steps by Nov. 2 when a quarterly progress report is due.

Their opponents, representing inmates, asked the court to keep the prison bureau accountable.

According to court records, plaintiffs with the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project persuaded a judge in District Court to add a list of actions to those set out in a quarterly compliance plan.

Some of those steps in the quarterly plan already focused on the treatment of the mentally ill. Corrections officials testifying in court have estimated half the CJC population fall into that category.

ACLU NPP attorney Eric Baliban filed a motion to add three steps. One called for acquisition of use-of-force devices like a spit hood and umbrella, training videos and the development of policies for their use.

Corrections officials are also being asked to secure the use of forensic psychiatric beds that will “accept and adequately treat prisoners in need of intermediate and in-patient psychiatric treatment.”

The action step addendum also called for development of a budget to build a modernized jail on St. Thomas. There was also a call to modify a step already called for by District Court Judge Curtis Gomez.

The judge asked the BOC to come up with protocols for giving mentally ill inmates medications they would not take willingly.

In an opposition motion for reconsideration filed in mid October, BOC lawyers asked the court to drop the instructions to put use-of-force materials and policies in place. They also asked for permission to sidestep protocols for giving inmates drugs they refuse or are not able to take on their own.

But Baliban argued that BOC was already in the midst of putting those steps in place. It was just taking them longer than expected.

“Defendants should strive to complete the quarterly goals and not seek to overturn these goals whenever Defendants think they might not succeed in completing a goal in a given quarter,” Baliban said. “Instead, Defendants have offered the Court a laundry list of excuses, claiming that the process of reviewing policies and drafting training materials prevents Defendants from completing these goals.”

If prison officials fall short in their efforts, they should tell the judge how much they were able to do and how much is left.

The parties will have a chance to do just that at the next scheduled compliance hearing, which is set for Nov. 28.