U.S. Terminates Consent Decree Overseeing CNMI Jail

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Federal government ‘impressed with the progress that had occurred’

By Andrew O. De Guzman

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, May 16, 2014) – Providing treatment or rehabilitation to inmates at the Department of Corrections is a "work in progress" as the federal court yesterday terminated the consent decree between the United States and CNMI governments on the operations of the local jail facility.

U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona v. Manglona granted the joint motion to terminate the decree after reviewing the final joint consent decree report.

The court stated it was fully satisfied and granted the parties’ joint motion.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey Murray and Mikel Schwab represented the federal government while Assistant Attorney General Teresita Sablan appeared on behalf of the CNMI government.

Also in attendance were Department of Corrections Commissioner Ramon C. Mafnas, Director Gregory Castro and Corrections officers.

Schwab said the federal government was impressed with the progress that had occurred.

The federal court commended everyone for their efforts and stated that all the documentation had been well presented, descriptive, signed, and photographed. The court congratulated all who were present in the courtroom which was acknowledged by applause.

During the National Peace Officers Memorial Day Ceremony at the Department of Public Safety headquarters yesterday morning, Gov. Eloy S. Inos said: "We’ve met the requirements on the consent decree that we’ve worked on for years now."

He added, "We basically met all the conditions and restrictions have been lifted."

When asked by this reporter about inmates or prisoners not getting court-ordered treatment or rehabilitation while in jail or after being released to the community, Inos said: "That’s one area that we have found very difficult to deal with."

But the governor said the government "has collaborated with the Community Guidance Center and we’ve been utilizing their expertise. But it’s still a work in progress. We need to continue to do that."

The governor noted that the Commonwealth Health Center doesn’t have a cardiologist or other specialists.

"We are concerned about this," said Inos, referring to inmates getting out of prison without rehabilitation or treatment.

"They need to be properly rehabilitated by the time they are ready to get out" of prison "to become better members of the community."

Mafnas, for his part, had yet to release the results of an investigation on a stabbing incident that occurred in the jail, in which an inmate stabbed a female visitor using a toothbrush. Mafnas has yet to respond to inquiries of this reporter regarding compliance with court-ordered treatment or rehabilitation for inmates or prisoners.

Mafnas, however, issued a three-page statement regarding the termination of the consent decree:

"The Consent Decree was sanctioned by the Federal District Court for the NMI on February 25th, 1999 by then Chief District Court Judge Alex Munson for violation of the civil rights of inmates, substandard living conditions, health, nutrition and safety and security infringements, breaches and contraventions. The parties, U.S. Government /Department of Justice (Plaintiff) and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Government (Defendant), reached an agreement for the Defendant to address identified infringements and violations of standards for confinement found at the old CNMI Department of Corrections Adult Correctional Facility and at the Kagman Juvenile Detention Facility.

"The CNMI Department of Corrections transitioned into the new and modern Commonwealth Correctional Facility in 2007 with rewritten and improved Policies and Procedures governing its management and operations. The four components addressed by the new set of policies and procedures are Health, Nutrition, Safety and Security of inmates including the Care, Discipline, Training and Treatment of correctional officers and staff.

"Intensive work and focus commenced upon the completion of the construction of the new facility in 2005 and continues till this day and shall continue in the years to come to house inmates and detainees in a constitutionally-approved environment and with standards necessary to promote their ability to respect life and property and to hopefully develop the character and strength to co-exist peacefully with others and, return to free society and live as law-abiding citizens.

"Today’s hearing at the U.S. District Court for the NMI presided over by Honorable Chief District Court Judge Ramona Manglona highlighted the benefits of raising, maintaining and enforcing constitutionally-approved standards in the quality and delivery of Health, Nutrition, Safety and Security services and goods at the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Department of Corrections (Commonwealth Correctional Facility and the Kagman Juvenile Detention Facility). This milestone of achievement is attributed to the dedication of former, past and present officers and staff of the CNMI Department of Corrections. There were countless man-hours spent. The Commonwealth Health Center, the CNMI Attorney General’s Office, the current and former Attorneys General of the CNMI, past and present CNMI governors, CNMI DOC commissioners and directors, the Legislature and the Administration as a whole, all worked together diligently to attain a common objective--to substantially comply with the Conditions found in the Consent Decree.

"The joint efforts and mustering of a multitude of assets and resources required tremendous leadership and cooperation between the Administration, the Legislature and the Judiciary. Honorable Chief District Court Judge Ramona Manglona said it best in describing the efforts and outcomes as ‘putting the structure in place’ necessary to support and carry out the duties and responsibilities of the CNMI DOC Commonwealth Correctional Facility. Such duties and responsibilities fall on the administration and management of the institution but the burden and bulk of such delicate and complex day-to-day responsibilities fall also on the shoulders of frontline officers who perform tasks and have constant interactions with inmates and detainees in the course of delivering goods and services to all persons in our custody as well as providing public safety to our community. These duties and responsibilities are performed in the presence of danger and health, safety and security risks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

"The Commissioner of the Department of Corrections and the Director of the Division of Corrections issue the following message of appreciation to each and every corrections officer and staff, ‘Thank you for your service, dedication, and loyalty to our Department and the People of the Commonwealth.’

"Over the course of 15 years and culminating today, May 15, 2014, the wisdom of Honorable Chief District Court Judge Ramona Manglona to wait and allow for several months of reviews, inspections and certifications for compliance by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to ensure substantial compliance was most prudent and appropriate for all parties. Foremost in this long-standing process was to create the management and operations structure necessary to ensure and safeguard the basic and fundamental rights and privileges of inmates and detainees at the CNMI DOC Commonwealth Correctional Facility.

"Inmates are people, too. Regardless of the crime or crimes committed by any person, he or she is still entitled to certain God-given rights and privileges, guaranteed by both the CNMI and U.S. constitutions.

"It would be remiss not to recognize and appreciate the long and arduous journey of fifteen years that involved the CNMI committing tens of millions of dollars to build a new modern correctional facility, put in place comprehensive written policies and procedures governing the operations and management of the Commonwealth Correctional Facility as well as instituting programs to provide Care, Discipline, Training and Treatment for both inmates and officers.

"Assistant U.S. Attorney Mikel W. Schwab said it best, ‘Perfection is a long journey. Every stroke is a struggle to achieve near perfection.’

"We will never be perfect but we can strive to achieve near excellent standards, performance and efficiency by ensuring that Care, Discipline, Training and Treatment were made available to both inmates and officers. We must also be quick to identify and address all issues arising during this long and challenging journey. The CNMI DOC welcomes all constructive criticisms and positive advice and encouragement from our community. Our occupation as corrections officers is most demanding and challenging. Anyone can scorn us, prejudge us and discredit our most sincere and dedicated efforts and contributions to the CNMI Department of Corrections on behalf of the people of the Commonwealth but only we as dedicated officers and families know and truly feel the constant demands, stresses and wherewithal that our occupation demands 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

"The CNMI Department of Corrections extends its deepest gratitude to Governor Eloy S. Inos, Lt. Governor Jude U. Hofschneider, the Senate and House of Representatives from Saipan, Rota and Tinian for their support in ensuring that the CNMI DOC Commonwealth Correctional Facility is adequately funded to fulfill its mandate and meet constitutional standards governing the safety, security and welfare of all inmates, officers and staff. Now, more than ever, the CNMI DOC needs the commitment and support of the Commonwealth as whole to remain vigilant and safeguard the investments and improvements put in place at great cost to our People and Commonwealth while we continue to devise ways and means to meet or exceed national standards and maintain the highest level of civility, health, nutrition, safety and security at our correctional and detention facilities."

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