Corrections director says staffing shortage at Golden Grove allowed for detainee's escape


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ST. CROIX - A Corrections official said Tuesday that a variety of factors converged to create a staffing shortage at Golden Grove prison that was even more severe than usual on the night that an inmate escaped this weekend.

V.I. Corrections Bureau Director Julius Wilson said on Tuesday that the bureau still is investigating, trying to find out how Rafael Joseph slipped out of Golden Grove Adult Correctional Facility sometime after the 9 p.m. head count Sunday.

Joseph, who has done his time on one rape conviction and is facing rape charges in a 2011 case, is accused of raping again while he was on the run before police recaptured him about noon Monday near a Frederiksted elementary school.

Prison staff learned of Joseph's escape after a woman reported to police early Monday that Joseph had raped her, and police contacted the bureau to find out whether he was still in custody.

The Corrections Bureau's internal investigation will help determine the factors and the security lapses that contributed to the escape, according to Wilson.

The prison's staffing problems, though, are longstanding and have been the topic of much discussion in a court case over unconstitutional conditions at the prison that has been litigated for more than 27 years.

Wilson did not blame the escape on short-staffing, but said that a number of factors converged to affect staffing at the prison on Sunday, including a security trip to bring back a detainee from California; an inmate who was in the hospital; staff who were taking critical training that occurred off-island; and the warden being out.

"There was a lot of critical staff missing during this period," Wilson said. "They're all back."

Staffing when the escape occurred was worse than usual, at least "on paper," according to Wilson.

"But that's not an excuse for not having good security or good vigilance," he said. "An inmate escaping from a correctional facility involves a failure of security."

Officials are looking for answers to a variety of questions, he said.

"What apparatus failed? What human error did I have? What material or mechanical failure? That's what I'm trying to nail down, because all of it has to be fixed and fixed right now," Wilson said.

He said staff has narrowed down the way Joseph got out to two possibilities, but would not say what those are.

"We're still in the process of questioning him. We think some of his story has truth to it, and we think some of it doesn't," Wilson said.

At a press briefing Monday, Wilson said that Corrections officials did not think Joseph had any help. But Tuesday, he said officials are trying to make sure that is the case.

"The reason for hard questioning and going through this so meticulously is we want to ensure he's gotten no help from anyone. That's what we're trying to nail down," Wilson said.

"What we're assuming right now is that it was an escape of opportunity as opposed to a planned escape," he said.

Meanwhile, Joseph has been isolated from the general population and Golden Grove remains on modified lockdown in the detainee section, which is the section from which Joseph escaped, Wilson said. Sentenced inmates are housed in a different section of the prison.

The detention area is likely to remain on modified lockdown until the internal investigation into the escape is finished, according to Wilson.

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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