Island leaders tour Department of Corrections - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Island leaders tour Department of Corrections

by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - 713 - that's the current population at the Department of Corrections facility, a prison, mind you, that was built to house only 350 at most.

And just as legislation aimed at building a new prison is close to being finalized, lawmakers were given a special tour today to see first hand what the employees and detainees experience everyday.

Back in 1990, there were a total of 80 inmates at the Department of Corrections. Today it's at its highest population ever at 713, that's 488 detainees and 225 inmates.

"If we don't do this now, in 20 years from now, this place will not be able to hold, we won't even be able to arrest people, the way I see it," said Senator Brant McCreadie.

He plans to introduce legislation to construct a new prison, so he along with Senator Tommy Morrison and Lt. Governor Ray Tenorio were shown how things really are behind bars from overcrowding, lack of air conditioning, and the need for more manpower. For instance, director Jose San Agustin says DOC currently has 215 employees and has accumulated $1.5 million in overtime. "If they allow me to hire 54 correctional officers, that will cost me $1.7 million a year and would totally, and I would promise you, if they don't fire me, I would totally eliminate overtime."

Starting the tour, lawmakers were shown the dome units that house those in violation of probation or parole, a unit with no air conditioning mind you. From there they went to Post 18, the old prison that holds those awaiting trial.

"We used to utilize as their gym, their workout place, but because of the overgrowing population again, we had to convert this back to open dorm housing units," he said.

Next was to Post 16 which houses the general population then to the Special Housing Unit that holds disciplinary maximum level inmates who are in danger to the general population.

"And this is the unit I was telling you guys, that it's 23 hours in and one hour fresh air," he said.

Lt. Governor Ray Tenorio even spoke with some inmates, one of who stressed the poor conditions there saying all he's been hearing is lip service.

One inmate said, "If the authority so care about whatever improvements that have to be done, it starts now and not later on and a lot of people here as of now we're packed like sardines."

In addition to visiting the library and the dining hall, lawmakers also met the medical professionals in charge of the prison's infirmary. Clinical psychologist Dr. Andrea Leitheiser says there's a huge demand for medical mental health services.

"We're bursting at the seams to as far as patient care, we're full right now," she said.

She along with medical director Raja Saad work 8 hours a day. It's a job they say holds a lot of responsibility.

"We all are definitely working together to meet the challenge of our growing population," Saad said.

Saad, who's worked with prisons for three decades stressed that with talk of a new prison, ideally you need three infirmaries, one for men, women and for the Mental Health.

"Not only important is to have a stationary facility medical facility inside, so you can take care of most of the prisoners inside the house instead transporting in the community back and forth to different areas for security issues," Saad said.

And following his first visit ever, Senator Morrison thanked the staff for showing their dire challenges.

"And to come here and see it first hand has been a very interesting tour, now with the solutions on the table, it's clear that we're on the right path," he said.

Lt. Governor Tenorio meanwhile, has visited before and says today was another reality check.

"But the bottom line is the director and the employees are doing the best they can, they need more infirmary, more medical supplies and more medical personnel  and the governor and I recognize this but it ultimately comes down to the resources that are brought to bear to fix this problem," he said,

Senator McCreadie meanwhile says he wasn't surprised at all by what he saw today saying it only reaffirms the need to introduce this measure.

"And I think we've been talking about it for the past 20 years, when we're in a settlement agreement with the federal agreement since 1991 but the problems exist way before that so we're in a possible federal receivership, we are overcrowded, bursting at the seams as the doctor told you and we need to do something about it now and what we have to do is build a new prison," he said.

Senator McCreadie is finalizing the language in the legislation to address funding for the new prison that is expected to be introduced sometime next month. 

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