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Thousands spent on jail cells a waste

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by Nick Delgado

Guam - The Department of Corrections appeared before the chief judge to talk up the improvements it made to comply with its 20-year-old case with the Justice Department.  The problem? Instead the agency got an earful after learning thousands of dollars on improvements that were deemed a waste of money.

"If it is a miscommunication on anybody's part, it's on their part and it's costly to us," said J.B. Palacios. Hoping to go over the major improvements to the nearly two-decade-old consent decree and stipulated order with the DoJ, Palacios, the DepCor director, was surprised when he found out that work to construct padded cells at the prison was a waste of time and money.

"If my memory serves me right and the minutes of the status hearings as well as the monthly discussion with DOJ, that was at the recommendation of the Department of Justice...it baffles me because I have already expended several thousands of dollars to renovate four cells where we're just down to buying the padded materials," he said.

In fact, Palacios estimates DepCor spent nearly $50,000 to gut out four cells and install plexiglass. Palacios is frustrated because they constantly spoke to the feds about the padded cells, adding that the DoJ mentioned it again in March of this year.  While the feds feels padded cells are outdated, Department of Mental Health Acting Deputy Dierctor Elizabeth Cruz says she thinks it's still possibility for the prison.

"They actually came to mental health to see what our facility looks like so now that Dr. Folks for DoJ has decided that its outdated or unnecessary, we are going to revisit that and see if there's a need," she said.

In an order issued today District Court Chief Judge Frances Tydingco Gatewood stated that she does not condone the waste of government funding, and has ordered DepCor to work with DoJ to resolve the issue. The chief judge also said it's crucial the prison has a forensics unit.  DepCor clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Leitheiser says it's a request she is working toward now that she has developed rules and regulations regarding access to healthcare for inmates.

"We'll always have rehabilitation at the facility," she said, "however the extent to which we provide mental healthcare that's going to be debatable, usually our acute cases we work with our partner Mental Health and also those of not guilty by reason of insanity, we will always provide access to standard mental healthcare at the department."

Despite the frustration and miscommunication, Palacios says he will be speaking with the feds to clear up the issue, as DoJ today said they recommended safe cells to prevent inmates from committing suicide.  "The concept of a safe cell will be something like a glass house and its an issue that if it because of a miscommunication, then it's a  costly communication," he noted.

Judge Gatewood scheduled the next status hearing for October 20 at 9am. Also during today's hearing Chief Judge Gatewood applauded DepCor and Mental Health for satisfying the issues with fire safety.

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