Guam Senator Highlights Prison Issues With Facility Tour

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Detention facility overcrowded, inadequately resourced

By Frank Whitman

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety Guam, August 1, 2013) – In order to highlight his initiative to build a new prison, Sen. Brant McCreadie of the 32nd Guam Legislature organized a tour of the Department of Corrections (DOC) Detention Facility in Mangilao yesterday for members of the island’s media and accompanied by Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio, Sen. Tommy Morrison and DOC officials. Though the overcrowded facility has a capacity of about 300, yesterday its population was at its highest level ever at 718 – only 225 of whom have been convicted of a crime and are actual inmates of the facility.

The remaining 408 are detainees being held as they await trial or other resolution of the charges against them. Of the detainees, 108 are confined for violating a court order and being in contempt of court. Many of the detainees are housed in three canvas domes erected in 1999 to house an influx of illegal immigrants. The domes are not air-conditioned, and yesterday were swelteringly hot. In dome 25, 54 detainees are assigned bunks and cots that pack the open floor space.

Throughout the facility, overcrowding was evident and problematic air conditioning exasperated conditions. A building that previously had been used for GED high school equivalency diploma classes, and arts and crafts activities is now used to house inmates. GED classes are held in what was formerly a lounge for guards.

Agreement

The detention center has been the subject of a settlement agreement put in place by the U.S. District Court of Guam on May 29, 1991. Many issues cited in the settlement agreement have been addressed, but the overcrowding has highlighted ongoing issues.

Recently, a full-time physician and clinical psychologist were added to the prison staff along with two nurses. The staffing is still not adequate for the prison population. "We just have such a huge need," said clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Leitheiser. "The ones who are assigned here, we’re using to capacity. We’re pushing as hard as we can." The infirmary gets about 1,200 sick calls per months, "and we meet about 25 percent of that." The staff addresses the most urgent problems.

The beds in the infirmary are full to capacity, she said. "We’re busting at the seams." Ideally, the prison should have three infirmaries, officials said. One infirmary would be for men, one for women, and one for mentally ill inmates.

Tenorio said the staffing shortage is being addressed. "Vice Speaker [Benjamin] Cruz had asked what the cost would be for the staffing and they’re working those figures now," he said. "Hopefully, the senators would put it into DOC’s budget for fiscal year 2014. They need three additional nurses and two site techs to be able to properly staff [the infirmary]."

Policy

The additional staff will address a recently announced DOC policy that those being admitted to the prison be cleared at Guam Memorial Hospital for being under the severe influence of alcohol or drugs. "That’s simply not realistic," Tenorio said.

McCreadie said he anticipates introducing a bill for the construction of a new prison within two weeks. "We’ve been talking about it for 20 years," he said. "We’re in danger of being federally received. … If we don’t do this now, we won’t even be able to arrest people."

The cost of the new prison will likely be between $30 million and $50 million. "We’re looking at all types of ways [of funding a new prison]," he said. "Our initial plan is to design, build and finance. We’re taking the model from [the Okkodo High School] expansion. We are trying to not make this a debt to the government and we’re trying to be as efficient as possible. But at the end of the day it is going to cost money, but I look at it as an investment in our community."

McCreadie acknowledged that Public Law 32-49 – the "three strikes" law sponsored by him and signed into law June 26 – has the potential to increase the prison population. "However, offenders with three or more convictions of the types of crimes listed in P.L. 32-049 have illustrated their inability for rehabilitation," he said. "These types of criminals should be incarcerated for the safety of the people of Guam. This is why I am working towards building a new correctional facility. This new facility will be able to adequately house those that fall under the ‘three strikes’ law, but more importantly it will provide DOC the facilities it needs to fully implement the educational and rehabilitation programs so that we can potentially reduce the number of recidivists."

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