Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility on St. Croix remains seriously understaffed, and plans for a new mental health unit will only exacerbate the problem, according to a staffing analysis conducted by a contractor for the V.I. Bureau of Corrections (BOC).
The report was filed in U.S. District Court after a judge ordered the Bureau to create an updated staffing plan as part of an ongoing federal consent decree intended to bring the prison up to constitutional standards of confinement.
But Bureau attorney, Special Assistant V.I. Attorney General Kelvin Vidale, notified the court that “the staffing analysis filed by consultant Rod Miller “did not seem to be a staffing plan or meet the court’s mandate,” and would need to be updated further, according to a motion for an extension of time filed Monday.
The U.S. Justice Department, which is the plaintiff in the 35-year-old case that resulted in the consent decree, does not oppose the motion, and Vidale asked for another 45 days to update the plan following an earlier 60-day extension. A judge has not yet ruled on the motion.
The facility’s chronic understaffing has left both inmates and guards vulnerable to violence, and the Bureau has struggled to recruit new corrections officers in recent years.
In January 2020, the Bureau had five candidates scheduled for interviews, but only three showed up, and one later withdrew. One corrections officer was hired in June and another in August, according to the latest status report filed by the Bureau on April 8. Eight people were interviewed in September; one candidate declined to be interviewed and one accepted another job.
As of February, six candidates are being processed, but “three have not returned the pre-employment paperwork. BOC human resources contacted those prospective candidates to no avail,” according to the status report. The other three completed medical and agility tests in March, and two have completed psychological evaluations, with the third pending.
The Bureau “is considering lateral hiring, a process for onboarding certified peace officers from other U.S. jurisdictions. This process would require officers to provide supporting documentation of peace officer status and successfully complete a correctional training program with the Peace Officer Standards and Training council,” according to the report. The Bureau is also seeking legislation that would “add retired correctional officers to the list of professionals who can come back to work for up to two years while continuing to earn a Government Employees Retirement System pension.”
But according to the new staffing analysis, the Bureau will need to do a lot more to recruit the staff it needs to run the prison safely.
The previous staffing plan created in 2018 calls for 104 full-time employees. Data from 2020 was skewed due to the pandemic and not useful for analysis, so the consultant looked at 2019 numbers and found that “71 employees delivered 205,235 hours.”
The overtime hours “increased total 2019 staff deployment to 93.8% of the level required by the 2018 plan,” and “overtime costs were increased by laws that require overtime pay after 8 hours in a 24-hour period, and overtime pay for hours that exceeded 40 hours in a week,” according to the analysis.
Costs are not the only concern, however. The consultant pointed out how many officers are working excessive hours that could cause them to burn out.
“Nearly two-thirds (62%) of these employees worked overtime hours that represented 50% or more of their regular hours,” meaning that 39 officers put in an average of 60 hours per week, and “one employee averaged 80 hours per week, raising concerns about performance and health.”
On an average shift, one-third of prison staff were working overtime in 2019, and those overtime levels, “eroded safety and security,” increased costs, posed employee health problems, and “may have increased employee burnout and turnover,” according to the analysis. “Hiring and retaining more employees offers the most effective solution.” The 34-acre prison campus “poses many operational and staffing challenges,” and the perimeter fences are difficult to secure and patrol, the outdated buildings don’t promote effective supervision, and “the condition of the original buildings, security systems, and perimeter fencing is poor, posing additional safety and security risks,” according to the analysis.
“X Dorm will be converted to a Mental Health housing unit in 2021. At that time, female inmates will be relocated to A Dorm” — which has been closed for several years — “adding another ‘island’ that increases staffing needs.”
The April 2020 report filed by Independent Monitor Kenneth Ray noted that the rate of “dangerous contraband” has increased, and “these findings are troubling but not unexpected. Increases in the prisoner population with decreasing correctional officer staffing levels creates additional problems that compound real and potential safety and security risks.”
The Bureau has been unable to meet current staffing goals, but the 2021 staffing plans require about 25% more man-hours than the 2018 plans, according to the analysis.
If necessary, the consultant recommended that the Bureau “revise procedures to allow a shift commander to suspend certain activities when the number of employees who report for duty is insufficient to ‘do everything’ safely. The procedures should identify the order in which activities should be suspended.”