Nearly a quarter of all detainees at the St. Thomas jail have tested positive for COVID-19, and it remains unclear how many of the facility’s 47 staff members are infected with the virus.
Corrections Bureau Director Wynnie Testamark said in a memo to employees Tuesday that an inmate at the jail, also known as the Criminal Justice Complex, received a positive COVID-19 test result Sunday evening.
“As a precaution, the bureau also tested the cellmate of the COVID-19 positive detainee. That inmate also tested positive for the coronavirus on Sunday,” according to the memo, which has been circulating on social media.
“Since the two CJC detainees who tested positive for the coronavirus have been in BOC custody for at least a year and since neither have left the facility nor received visitors since March when the pandemic began, it is more than likely that they contracted the virus from a member of CJC staff.”
Testamark reminded staff to wear facial coverings and personal protective equipment at all times while on duty, and to “remember that what they do off-duty can affect the safety and security of the co-workers and inmates at our facilities. I urge you to be prudent and conscientious even on your days off.”
The jail has a rated capacity of 97 inmates and houses detainees who are awaiting trial, and individuals convicted of crimes who have not yet been sentenced to a term in prison.
Because the Virgin Islands does not have a secure psychiatric treatment facility, the jail also often holds indigent, mentally ill detainees charged with relatively minor crimes, and defendants who were found not guilty by reason of insanity — meaning that some of the territory’s most vulnerable individuals are routinely warehoused there. In response to questions from The Daily News, Bureau of Corrections spokesman Winthrop Maduro said in an email Wednesday that the jail currently houses “74 inmates/detainees,” and has 47 staff members.
A total of 17 inmates and three staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Maduro.
While three cases have been confirmed among staff members, it remains unclear how many more might be infected.
“The bureau has been proactive in following CDC and DOH guidelines to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 in our facilities,” Testamark said in the memo. “Those efforts kept our facilities COVID-19 free for five months. But with increased community spread in the Virgin Islands comes increased risk that an asymptomatic carrier could bring the coronavirus into our facility, despite our best efforts. This makes screening for COVID-19 extremely difficult.”
No cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at the Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility on St. Croix, and the Bureau has no plans to test inmates being held there, according to the memo.
The jail outbreak comes amid a surge of COVID-19 infections on St. Thomas.
The Health Department issued a quarantine order for the jail, which is now under lockdown, and “no new inmates/detainees will be accepted at the facility, and none will be released until all COVID-19 cases at the facility have been cleared,” according to Tuesday’s statement from the Bureau.
Maduro clarified in an email Wednesday that “persons arrested after the St. Thomas jail went on lock down will be held in a secure location pending a bail hearing.
“Those granted bail will be released. Those denied bail will be transported to the Golden Grove facility on St. Croix.”