On June 20, 1994, inmates of the Criminal Justice Complex in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, filed this class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the District of the Virgin Islands. The plaintiffs, who were represented by the National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Union and others, sued the Governor of the Virgin Islands and the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections; they asked the Court for declaratory and injunctive relief, alleging that their constitutional rights had been violated by the poor conditions of their confinement. Specifically, they complained of the inadequacy of the building in which they were housed to hold prisoners, up to five prisoners in each cell, lack of a functioning sink in each cell, only one showerhead for use by all prisoners in each cluster, overcrowding (population was, they said, 4 times capacity), lack of sufficient beds, transmission of infectious diseases, and defective plumbing. They also complained of inadequacies in the areas of sanitation, programming, exercise, food service, medical care, personal safety, noise levels, and an environment of tension, stress, and hostility. They contended that the overcrowding led to a high risk of violence, as well as infestation with roaches, rats, flies, mosquitoes, and mice. They complained of contaminated drinking water, moldy showers, broken cooling and ventilation systems, broken windows, asbestos particles in the air, poor lighting, risk of fire, poor medical care, inadequate classification and screening procedures, lack of delivery of prescription medication, poor dental care, poor mental health care, discrimination against disabled prisoners, excessive use of force, failure to protect prisoners from one another, denial of access to a law library and to attorneys, and interference with religious practices.
On October 12, 1994, the parties entered into a settlement agreement, which they submitted to the Court for approval. Under the terms of the agreement, the defendants agreed to limit the population to 97 inmates (less than half of the former population), to house female inmates separately from male inmates, and to eliminate double-celling. The agreement also addressed problems in the areas of insufficient mattresses, providing a storage area in each cell for each inmates' personal possessions, establishing a comprehensive kitchen maintenance and sanitation plan, preventive maintenance, clean drinking water, plumbing, electrical, mechanical, ventilation, air conditioning, nutrition, lighting, noise levels, temperature control, personal hygiene, provision of linens, soap, shampoo, and toothpaste, vermin and pests, fire safety, medical care, substance abuse treatment, medications, intake evaluations, disease testing, record-keeping, mental health care, inmate safety, activities, recreation, education, use of force, and other concerns mentioned in the complaint. The case was assigned to Judge Stanley Brotman, and the Court adopted the agreement as a consent decree in December of 1994 and awarded the plaintiffs $155,000 in attorneys' fees.
Over the next two years, the defendants paid only one third of the attorneys' fees that had been ordered by the Court, and the plaintiffs asked the Court to hold them in contempt for this violation, as well as for other violations of the decree. Judge Brotman held hearings on these motions, and on November 26, 1996, the defendants asked the District Court to modify the consent decree. They informed the court that over the two years following the adoption of the consent decree, the Virgin Islands experienced five major storms, which they alleged to have caused unforeseen and unbudgeted financial setbacks for the entire populace of the Islands, resulting in an unprecedented public debt. They alleged that due to these concerns, they were unable to comply with the consent decree in two areas: 1) overpopulation of the facility, and 2) psychiatric evaluation, care, and management of the prisoners. Due to this situation, they asked the Court to excuse them from complying with these portions of the decree. The defendants then asked the District Court to terminate the consent decree pursuant to the recently-enacted Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).
On January 30, 1997, Judge Brotman found for the plaintiffs; he held that the defendants' conduct and the conditions at the prison violated the Eighth Amendment by subjecting the prisoners to inhumane conditions of confinement. The Court further found that the defendants had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against prisoners with disabilities, and that they had violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) by instituting unreasonable policies regarding inmate religious practices. The Court also found that they had denied the inmates meaningful access to the courts and defied the Court by refusing to pay the attorneys' fees. Carty v. Farrelly, 957 F.Supp. 727 (D.Virgin Islands 1997). A month later, the Court held the defendants in contempt and ordered them to submit regular reports to the Court on their progress.
(In a separate case addressing whether the federal government could constitutionally house prisoners in any of the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections facilities, on April 2, 1997, District Judge Thomas Moore found that the prison conditions were unconstitutional and issued an order that no persons detained under process of the U.S. Government and any of its agencies should be lodged or housed in any facilities of the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections. In the Matter Of: Federal Detainees Housed or Lodged in the Facilities of the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections on St. Croix, 1997 WL 182301 (D.Virgin Islands April 2, 1997). On April 25, 1997, Judge Moore modified that order to allow the U.S. Marshal to lodge federal detainees in Bureau of Corrections facilities in St. Croix when required by logistical difficulties of moving such prisoners between the Virgin Islands and the Guaynabo Metropolitan Detention Center. In the Matter Of: Federal Detainees Housed or Lodged in the Facilities of the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections on St. Croix, 1997 WL 222647 (D.Virgin Islands, April 25, 1997).)
On December 2, 1997, the District Court (Judge Brotman) ruled on another motion by the plaintiffs for civil contempt. The Court held that the plaintiffs were not entitled to monetary sanctions, and ordered the defendants to continue reporting on their progress. Carty v. Schneider, 986 F.Supp. 933 (D.Virgin Islands 1997).
Four years later, the District Court did hold the defendants in contempt of the consent decree, finding that they had not made a reasonable effort to comply with the Court's orders. Carty v. Turnbull, 144 F.Supp.2d 395 (D.Virgin Islands 2001).
On February 27, 2007, the District Court again held the defendants in contempt, finding that the defendants had failed to even file a reply to the plaintiff class motion for an order holding the defendants in contempt for failure to comply with the consent decree's requirements in the area of mental health care.
On February 21, 2008 the court ordered a corrections expert to inspect the prison facilities. On January 12, 2009, the defendants filed a motion to terminate the consent decree and remove the court supervision. The court then filed a scheduling order setting discovery deadlines and a date for a hearing. The defendants did not comply with the deadlines, leading the court to rule that the defendants would not be permitted to present evidence contradicting the findings of the plaintiffs' corrections expert or of any remedial efforts taken since the experts' tour of the prison facilities. The defendants ultimately withdrew their motion to terminate.
On May 18, 2010 the court issued an opinion regarding the report made by the corrections expert on his visit to the prison facilities. Carty v. DeJongh, 2010 WL 2024524. The court found the defendants were still not in compliance with the settlement agreement and ordered them to resolve all deficiencies swiftly and fully. The order required that the defendants supply the court with periodic status reports on its compliance with the settlement agreement and other remedial orders. The defendants submitted the status reports, as ordered, for the following two years.
On March 4, 2011, plaintiffs moved for the appointment of an expert to work with the defendants on population management and prisoner classification issues. Judge Brotman agreed on June 28, 2011, issuing an order assigning Dr. James Austin to serve as a population manager and classification expert. The order also required Dr. Austin to perform periodic criminal justice assessments to assist the government in reducing the prisoner population at the Criminal Justice Complex and Annex. The defendants moved for reconsideration, on October 7, 2011, and apparently this reconsideration motion was never ruled upon.
On May 13, 2013, parties proposed a new settlement agreement. Under the settlement, the defendant agreed to make significant improvements to classification and housing of prisoners, prisoner supervision, general security, housing and environmental health conditions, population control, development of policies and procedures, use of force, use of physical restraints, addressing prisoner grievances, programming, staffing, fire safety, medical and mental health care, training of staff, and monitoring of the prison. The settlement also stated that relief would terminate when the defendant has achieved and maintained substantial compliance for one year. On August 14, 2013, the court approved the settlement.
There was very little progress towards compliance, however. So as the Court explained later (in an order dated March 11, 2016) on May 10, 2015, Dr. James Austin--who had been designated the Court's expert on population management in 2011--sent an email to the defendants notifying them that he wanted to make a site visit to the correctional facilities in June 2015, to conduct his criminal justice assessment in line with the June 28, 2011 order. The defendants' response was that no provision of the consent decree authorized such an assessment and, as such, Dr. Austin could not perform that task.
On June 2, 2015, plaintiffs filed a motion to enforce the June 28, 2011 order. On December 9, 2015, a regularly scheduled quarterly evidentiary hearing was held. During the hearing, the defendants acknowledged that nothing had superseded the original order; the court (Judge Gomez) accordingly ruled orally that day that the 2011 appointment remained in effect. That decision was filed in written form in an order dated March 11, 2016,
In the meantime, plaintiffs continued to work to enforce the settlement agreement more generally, with contested motions relating to site visits and the like. There have been expert reports and new goals set out quarterly. Kristen Sagar - 10/16/2007
Priyah Kaul - 10/01/2014