U.S. Virgin Islands Governor and Attorney General Held in Contempt Over Deficient Care for Mentally Ill Prisoners

March 1, 2007 12:00 am

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Federal Court Agrees With ACLU That Officials Failed to Make Court-Ordered Changes

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ST. THOMAS, VI – The American Civil Liberties Union today welcomed a federal judge’s ruling finding Virgin Islands government officials in contempt for failing to provide court-ordered mental health care and appropriate housing for mentally ill Virgin Islands prisoners.

“Even with court orders requiring the government to provide appropriate care for the mentally ill, we have scores of clients who are consistently neglected by staff in the Virgin Islands,” said Eric Balaban, an attorney for the ACLU National Prison Project, which represents the prisoners in the case, Carty v. DeJongh. “We are pleased that the court has issued an order holding jail officials in contempt for their reckless disregard for the well-being of these inmates.”

In his contempt decision, Judge Stanley Brotman found that government officials had failed to comply with his 2004 and 2006 orders requiring them to transfer four prisoners found not guilty by reason of insanity to an appropriate psychiatric facility. Judge Brotman also held the government in contempt for failing to hospitalize Jonathan Ramos, a seriously mentally ill prisoner who was arrested in 2002 for allegedly trying to steal a bicycle, and who remains incarcerated even though his criminal charges were dismissed over six months ago.

“There are currently at least five inmates in prisons in the Virgin Islands who are no longer facing criminal charges because they have been found not guilty by reason of insanity,” said Ben Currence, a St. Thomas attorney who is co-counsel with the ACLU in the case. “These people are not criminals and should not be punished for their mental illness.”

Government officials claim they have nowhere to safely house Ramos and other prisoners who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity. Three years ago, then-Attorney General Alva Swan promised to build a facility suited for chronically mentally ill Virgin Islanders, including mentally ill prisoners who cannot safely be housed in the territory’s correctional facilities. No such facility has been built. Governor John DeJongh, who took office this year, and Attorney General-designee Vincent Frazier are the two officials now burdened with complying with the court’s orders. Judge Brotman noted that it was previous administrators who failed to comply with his orders and are primarily responsible for the contempt order as a result.

Judge Brotman has ordered jail officials to submit a progress report to the court regarding his contempt order within 60 days. If compliance is not forthcoming, the court may then order contempt fines against the government.

The Carty v. DeJongh contempt order and findings of fact are online at:

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