Governor slams Legislature for no-confidence vote on Wilson


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ST. THOMAS - Gov. John deJongh Jr. chastised the Legislature for passing a resolution seeking the termination of Corrections Bureau Director Julius Wilson.

He reminded the Senate they have no power and no responsibility to make changes to his Cabinet and defended Wilson's job performance.

"It is improper and unjustified and I object to it," deJongh wrote in a transmittal letter to Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone.

The resolution passed Jan. 14 in a 10-5 vote, sponsored by Sen. Kenneth Gittens, asks deJongh to demand Wilson's resignation, or otherwise seek his termination.

The Corrections Bureau is part of the executive branch and Wilson would be required to resign only if the governor - not the Legislature - requests it.

DeJongh said Wilson has not only transitioned the bureau from the V.I. Justice Department to its own agency, but settled two major lawsuits. One, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union regarding the jails on St. Thomas, is a 20 year-old case. The other involves a federal consent decree from 1986 concerning Golden Grove prison on St. Croix.

The lawsuits are "settled" in that the judges in both cases in 2013 approved brand new sets of comprehensive, sweeping court orders involving different aspects of Corrections that the territory has agreed to - and will be required to - fully implement.

The territory has yet to do so.

Federal judges have found that conditions at the territory's jails and prison violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment, and the new court orders are aimed at improving conditions to meet minimal constitutional standards.

The latest set of court orders are settlement agreements, so if the territory is able to effectively implement all their provisions, then the territory would be eligible to be released from court monitoring and the cases would be settled.

The most recent report made public from an independent monitor the territory was required to hire under the new set of court orders in the Golden Grove case found, though, that very little has improved at the prison since the court found that conditions violated the Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment last year.

"While we can always strive to do better in this area, if one were to research and review the nature of operating jails and prisons by local, state, federal and private contractors, the results would yield a conclusion that the inherent dangers and difficulties in running these institutions are universal and not confined to the operations of our Bureau of Corrections," deJongh said. "Soaring prison populations and limited budgets and resources combine to create a precarious situation, which the current Director and his leadership team have had to confront throughout the years. I stand behind them."

The governor went on to call the resolution a "baseless and wasteful exercise" meant only to ignite emotions. He said it undermines the territory's efforts to improve the prisons and jails.

"In the future, if such sentiment for expressions of dissatisfaction with any member of my cabinet, or indeed, my administration, I encourage the Legislature as a whole or any individual senator to contact me or my staff and seek to resolve whatever issues of concern prompt the exchange," deJongh said.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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