A Cry from the Mountains: Virgin Island Inmates Decry Conditions, Discrimination in Virginia Prisons
Written by: Sam Orlando
ROANOKE, VIRGINIA - A recent lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia by an inmate from the US Virgin Islands, Hernan Navarro, sheds light on significant disparities between the treatment inmates allegedly face in mainland prisons and the picture painted by Virgin Islands government officials.
Breaking Through News has learned, from inspecting documents and contracts from the United States Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections, that the Island territory has a contract to ship dozens of their inmates to Virginia Prisons, due to overcrowding.
Navarro, incarcerated at Virginia's Keen Mountain Correctional Center, alleges that Virgin Islands inmates, including himself, are subject to discriminatory practices. Despite being at Keen Mountain for over six years, Navarro claims he hasn't received classification or an annual review. He emphasizes that Virgin Islands inmates are not receiving the equal treatment they were promised, pointing to an order given by Senior Judge Jackson L. Kiser of the Western District of Virginia, which he alleges has been disregarded by Keen Mountain officials.
The lawsuit comes against the backdrop of a recent press release from the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections (BOC), which highlighted their commitment to ensuring the humane treatment of Virgin Islands inmates housed in Virginia. The BOC recently visited four prisons, including Keen Mountain, purportedly to ensure the inmates' housing quality and treatment were up to standard. In the release, Director Wynnie Testamark stated, "We do not just send them away and forget about them; they are human beings and must be treated with the utmost respect."
The release went on to emphasize BOC's dedication to protecting the rights of the inmates, detailing a visit wherein they held discussions with inmates and reviewed their files. It painted a picture of rehabilitation and care, noting opportunities for vocational training, reentry, life skills, and family interaction through videoconference visits.
Yet Navarro's lawsuit stands in stark contrast to the BOC's claims. He details instances where inmates' rights were allegedly infringed upon and when they were subject to maltreatment, all under the purview of these Virginia correctional facilities. Moreover, Navarro’s suit indicates delays and potential neglect in the legal process, with motions pending for over seven months without response.
This situation raises pressing questions about the real conditions Virgin Islands inmates face in mainland prisons. While the BOC’s press release offers a positive narrative of collaboration, care, and rehabilitation, lawsuits like Navarro's suggest a far grimmer reality.
These allegations highlight a need for transparency and accountability in the partnership between the Virgin Islands and mainland correctional facilities. As the lawsuit progresses, many will be watching closely, hoping for clarity and, if necessary, reform.