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DepCor struggling to come into compliance

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - Having been under a consent decree for more than two decades, the Department of Corrections struggles to come into full compliance with the mandates imposed by the court and the Department of Justice - putting the department in jeopardy of being placed under a federal receivership.

"Most people don't realize you can't lock people up and forget about them. You have to lock them up and take care of them," said DepCor spokesman Lieutenant Antone Aguon. But for the last 22 years, the agency has struggled with doing just that.

DepCor has been under a consent decree since 1991.  It was a result of the government's inability to provide adequate living conditions and treatment of prisoners but hundreds of inmates and detainees later. The situation has only gotten worse. Lieutenant Aguon says the department has made strides in coming into compliance with issues like installing a fire sprinkler and getting fire retardant mattresses which he says are nearly in every unit and improving galley services and having a dietician review the food.

But the department continues to struggle with one particular portion of the consent decree-medical services. He continued, "This is because the U.S. Supreme Court has said over and over that whenever you take somebody's freedom away the government is responsible to give them access to reasonable medical care. With only one doctor, one psychologist and two nurses it gets pretty challenging."

The department gets more than 1,200 requests every month for sick call to see the lone physician there, but Aguon says they are only able to service about 25% of those requests. "That brings a challenge because if we don't get to other issues then it becomes worse. Because minor problems that we could probably take care of in the beginning don't get taken care of they become major problems," he said.

And with a population of 230 inmates and another 480 detainees at a cost of $118 per day per inmate or detainee, the costs are skyrocketing. The facility, built in the 1960s, was only meant to house a population of 300 but is now bursting at the seams with a population of more than 700 with only 22 officers working at any given time.

KUAM News asked Aguon if the department is worried because of the failure to come into compliance with the consent decree after 21+ years that it may end up in receivership," to which he replied, "I'll be honest - that is a concern and on everyone's mind right now. Again, we do the best we can with what's provided."

When compared to the millions spent on the federal receiver in the Ordot Dump case and the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on the federal management team to get adequate care for individuals with disabilities, a receivership would break the bank for the already struggling department that can barely cover the basic costs to care for the prison population not to mention the growing medical bills that haven't been paid. Aguon believes the solution is twofold. He suggests a short-term fix of hiring more medical staff and hiring new officers and a long-term fix of getting a new state of the art prison.

He said, "I'm hoping with all the attention that were getting that somebody helps out with the financial and comes up with a permanent plan to fix this. I know it costs money and the government is in a big financial issue but we have lives at stake in here both inmates and staff and we don't want until somebody actually dies before something happens."

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