Guam – Budget concerns are once again looming for the Department of Corrections, which has reached a point where overcrowding is forcing prisoners to live in nearly uninhabitable conditions and minimal security.
DOC Spokesman Lt. Antone Aguon says the department needs at least $25 million to run efficiently. But the Legislature, he notes, has repeatedly given much less.
At the Department of Corrections, this is what is called a dome. It looks like temporary shelter and, well, it is. But two of these four domes have been turned into temporary prisons. This, DOC Spokesman Lt. Aguon says, is the department’s temporary solution because of overcrowding.
“The dome is only a temporary building. It’s like canvas-type material. If a typhoon comes tomorrow that thing’s finished. It’s only a temporary building, it’s an open bay and it’s really no security whatsoever,” says Aguon.
Each dome has about 30 detainees. There are no glass windows, just screens for ventilation. When it rains, it floods. There is no air conditioning and in the heat of day, prisoners have to cope with the scorching heat. Lt. Aguon tells us that DOC gets an average of 40 more prisoners a year. Housing them has always been a problem, he says.
“We are gaining on an average of 40 people a year in other words 40 people are staying more than being relased. So just by those numbers alone it’s pretty safe to say that within a year we’re gonna have 80 more inmates … and in 2 years, it’ll be 160,” Aguon explains.
Now that a budget request has been submitted, Aguon says he hopes the Legislature will approve their budget or even consider giving more than they asked for. Realistically, it will take about $25 million to run DOC. That figure, Aguon says, will fill needed positions that have been vacant for several years, and will address overtime issues. But, as Aguon explains, it doesn’t actually address overcrowding.
“At this point I believe the budget is a status quo budget. As far as I know there are no new monies identified in the budget to build a new prison or to build a new housing unit. That would require probably a different appropriation,” states Aguon.
Right now DOC has about 150 corrections officers, but what he needs is about 215 officers. Most officers are on a 12 hour shift, and some management level staff are even on 16 hour shifts to make up for DOC’s severe shortage of employees.
At some posts, at the domes, for example, there is only one or two officers guarding 60 to 70 detainees at a time. While this is an alarming picture, Aguon says those housed at the dome are low-risk prisoners.
“Overcrowding has always been an issue it will continue to be an issue unless a new building is put up or a whole new facility is built. Our challenge of course is trying–the influx from Agana coming over here, because this is the overflow from Agana, trying to find the bed space to put them in,” he laments.
“Every day it’s a musical chair trying to figure out where to put these people,” he adds.
Aguon says there are about 650 prisoners and it costs about $98 dollars a day to confine them. But he also says that number has not been updated for 10 years.// He is inviting lawmakers to take a tour of the compound to get a better picture of what conditions are really like at DOC.