The number of inmates at the $20.9-million prison complex in Susupe has increased by 32 percent, Corrections Commissioner Ray Mafnas told members of the Senate Committee on Executive Appointments and Government Investigations during yesterday morning's public hearing on the governor's nomination of Sgt. James C. Deleon Guerrero as Department of Public Safety commissioner.
Deleon Guerrero said his main thrust is to restore the public's trust and confidence in DPS and boost employee morale. DPS has remained without a permanent commissioner since early 2012.
Government officials, meanwhile, see the 32-percent increase in the number of inmates as good and bad. Either there's an increase in incarceration rate, which is good, or a plain increase in the number of crimes and civil offenses in the community.
The prison complex can house some 500 inmates.
Without giving specific raw figures for safety and security reasons, Mafnas said he could only say that the number is fast approaching the 50 percent maximum occupancy.
Based on estimates, the number of inmates could now be more than 200.
When the state-of-the-art prison opened in 2008, there were only 131 inmates at the time, and this figure included civil detainees, the criminally charged, and DUI offenders.
Mafnas, a former DPS commissioner, was among the 10 individuals who testified in favor of Deleon Guerrero's nomination.
Just like the other nine, Mafnas spoke of Deleon Guerrero's extensive background in the operations of DPS, his dedication to serve the community, and his resolve to lead the department forward.
Some of those who testified in favor of Deleon Guerrero's nomination also cited the 32-percent increase in the number of inmates.
Rep. Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan), for example, said it's “long overdue” that a capable person lead DPS given the months that the post has been vacant and filled only by those in an acting capacity.
“If inmates increased by 32 percent, that means there's a problem. We need Sgt. James to be there [DPS],” said the representative.
EAGI Committee chair Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian), a retired police captain, said the increase in the number of inmates could also mean that the Judiciary and other law enforcement agencies are doing a great job in ensuring those who break the law are put behind bars.
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial's failure to nominate a DPS commissioner within a 90-day period is one of the 18 allegations in a resolution impeaching him for neglect of duty, corruption, and felony.
Dozens of uniformed police officers, firefighters, those in civilian dress, and other community members attended the panel's hearing on the DPS commissioner nomination.
All 10 who testified before the Senate EAGI Committee urged the panel to recommend Deleon Guerrero's confirmation.
Cruz said his committee also received written testimony, all in favor of Deleon Guerrero's nomination.
“Nobody testified either orally or in writing, against the nomination,” he told Saipan Tribune.
The EAGI Committee is poised to recommend Deleon Guerrero's confirmation, and the full Senate may confirm the nomination during its next session, to be held on Tinian next week.
Esther Fleming, the governor's special assistant for administration, presented the nominee to the Senate committee.
Fleming said Deleon Guerrero is “fully qualified” for the position, and he made DPS “his career.”
She said Deleon Guerrero has been with DPS for 24 years, since graduating from Marianas High School in 1989.
Fleming cited Deleon Guerrero's contributions and accomplishments at DPS in different posts, including the modernization of the department's evidence facility.
Deleon Guerrero, in his nine-minute remarks before the Senate panel, said he will restore public trust and confidence in DPS, help boost employee morale, implement fundamental changes to better the department, invest more in science and technology, and further work with other agencies.
He said while “public dismay” with DPS is at an “all-time high,” this could be addressed within and also with the help of the community.
“I'm here to provide competent and capable leadership,” he told senators.
Deleon Guerrero also said “there could only be one commissioner” for DPS.
He added that his resolve is to “uphold the law” and “do the right thing” all the time.
Since last year, the governor has been designating brothers Ambrosio and Aniceto Ogumoro as acting DPS commissioner. Some DPS personnel said Aniceto Ogumoro was at the Senate gallery in the beginning of the hearing but left, while Ambrosio Ogumoro did not attend the hearing.