For two and a half hours, Department of Corrections leadership was in the hot seat as Committee on Public Safety Chairwoman Vice Speaker Telena Nelson led an inquisition into troubling incidents that have occurred at the Mangilao compound and the Hagatna Detention Facility.
Poor documentation practices and poor record-keeping, overworked correctional officers, failure to follow protocol, CO’s outnumbered and spread thin are just a few issues plaguing the Department of Corrections
“In an attempt to place DOC’s four cases of erroneous release in context to simply understand whether or not this problem has gotten better or worse over time I’ve searched DOC’s records for historical data of erroneous release tonight I am forced to say that prior to this administration I can find no historical data of erroneous release at DOC even though rank and file personnel assure me that erroneous releases occurred prior to January 2019,” DOC director Samantha Brennan said.
Majority of Wednesday evening was spent delving into the four erroneous releases of pre-trial detainees which occurred just this year under Brennan’s watch. But as the oversight hearing unfolded and DOC attempted to answer questions posed by senators, “everything became clear as mud,” this according to Nelson.
The lack of clarity centered around how a triple check process used by DOC in the release of pre-trial detainees failed 4 times.
“Once the first erroneous releases were detected, we reviewed our processes took appropriate disciplinary action in line with administrative rules and sought help. In partnership with the Guam Judiciary, we implemented the use of the court VCCH data base allowing our officers to have real time access to inmate files release orders whether they have multiple aliases or not,” Brennan said.
To do this, Brennan says the relocated computers, JOG-trained DOC personnel and the prison implemented a new checklist for releasing prisoners.
DOC Major Antone Aguon also told lawmakers that DOC utilizes the AS400, Data Base, and reviews the physical files of each detainee to be released. The process involves a HUB officer located at the Hagatna lockup checking the databases, a unit officer who reviews the physical file, followed by the platoon commander who is supposed to ensure that everything was checked. But while three signatures are fixed to release documents with the intent of ensuring that a release is not erroneous, it isn’t all black and white as it was revealed that DOC failed to flow protocols to the “T.” Brennan says the responsible COs fell victim to complacency, stress and being overworked.
“As DOC’s director, a mother and grandmother, I know exactly why we are here. This community has the right to feel safe and that can’t happen if prisoners are erroneously released and those with repeated errors are not subject to adverse action it also means that If a clear plan to prevent it in the future is not put in place DOC must cooperatively submit to the Legislative oversight providing any answers we can under the confines of the law and without jeopardizing potential investigations,” Brennan said.
Brennan deferred many of the questions to DOC Major Antone Aguon as it appears that the director had little involvement in the reprimands handed down on the responsible officers.
All four cases of erroneous release were done out of the Hagatna Detention Facility. At least two of them involved different HUB officers but the same unit supervisor.
At the hearing, it was questioned why the Senior Supervising CO involved in two of the erroneous releases only received a “slap on the wrist” with the action taken being counseling and not a more serious reprimand following the second “mistake.”
Meanwhile, Brennan says the responsible correctional officers fell victim to complacency, stress and being overworked — an issue that apparently occurs often as a result of lack of COs. To date, 15 COs have resigned this year.
And while an attempt was made to gather historical data on erroneous releases, Brennan says she couldn’t find any supporting documents that any occurred prior to 2019, despite media reports indicating there were two in the beginning of 2018.
But when asked to furnish documents of erroneous releases from 2018, it looks like DOC has no idea where they are or if they even exist. This did not sit well with the Vice Speaker who alluded to failures in DOC internal communications
It was also asked why no internal investigation by a third party was considered or conducted. While Aguon indicated that no formal investigation was conducted into the two April incidents, Brennan stated that she stands firm in her belief that the two incidents be investigated by DOC Internal Affairs. She said an investigation by an outside parties like GPD or Guam Customs would delay the process and the 90-day period for any adverse action against the CO responsible would lapse. But in the future, she said she would consider requesting for their assistance.
Focus then shifted to assaults on DOC officers which appears to be related to a lack of manpower at the prison and the disbanding of the Special Operations Response Team, which is a dedicated unit assigned to respond to such incidents.
Just this year, there were three assaults on DOC corrections officers. The first occurred August in a post with 15 prisoners, the second occurred in a post with 50 inmates/detainees and the third was in a post with 48 prisoners. It was repirted that COs are often tasked with overseeing three posts simultaneously and pulling 24-hour shifts.