Prison consent decree lifted


U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona terminated yesterday the 15-year-old consent decree between the CNMI government and the U.S. Department of Justice that resolved prison conditions in the Commonwealth.

Manglona said she is fully satisfied with her review of the final joint consent decree report and commended everyone for all their efforts.

At the end of the hearing, those present in the courtroom applauded.

Assistant attorney general Teresita J. Sablan, counsel for the CNMI government, and DOJ’s trial attorney Jeffrey R. Murray, filed the final consent decree report in court.

Aside from Sablan and Murray, assistant U.S. attorney Mikel Schwab also appeared for the U.S. government at the hearing. Seated beside Sablan at defendants’ table were Department of Corrections Commissioner Ramon Mafnas and DOC director Gregory Castro. DOC officers were also present in court.

Assistant U.S. attorney Schwab expressed how impressed the U.S. government was with the progress that has occurred at corrections facilities on the islands. Sablan also shared the same comments.

Mafnas and Castro also gave comments to the court. DOJ’s trial attorney Murray stated that he had nothing more to add.

In a statement yesterday, Mafnas said that DOC extends its deepest gratitude to Gov. Eloy S. Inos, Lt. Gov. Jude U. Hofschneider, and the Legislature for their support in ensuring that DOC is adequately funded to fulfill its mandate and meet constitutional standards governing the safety, security, and welfare of inmates, officers, and staff.

“Now, more than ever, the CNMI DOC needs the commitment and support of the Commonwealth as a whole to remain vigilant and safeguard the investments and improvements put in place at great cost to our people and Commonwealth while we continue to devise ways and means to meet or exceed national standards and maintain the highest level of civility, health, nutrition, safety, and security at our correctional and detention facilities,” Mafnas said.

He said the wisdom of Judge Manglona to wait and allow for several months of reviews, inspections and certifications for compliance by the U.S. Attorney General’s Office to ensure substantial compliance was prudent and appropriate for all parties.

Mafnas said this milestone is attributed to the dedication of former, past and present officers and staff of DOC.

“We will never be perfect but we can strive to achieve near excellent standards, performance and efficiency by ensuring that care, discipline, training, and treatment are made available to both inmates and officers,” he said.

Last Jan. 27, Sablan and Murray informed the court that the Commonwealth has fulfilled its obligations under the consent decree. Sablan and Murray said the parties stipulate that the CNMI “is in compliance with the requirements of the consent decree.”

Sablan and Murray agreed that an evidentiary hearing is not necessary because the U.S. government does not oppose the termination of the consent decree.

In 1978, the U.S. investigated the CNMI’s adult and juvenile detention facilities. The DOJ observed, among other things, that staff members were not trained for response in a fire emergency; facilities lacked fire alarms, smoke detectors, sprinklers, and emergency generators; cells were keyed with individual locks, which greatly increased risk in the event of fire; emergency exits were not marked; many cells lacked running water; toilets would not flush; shower areas were covered in mold and mildew; and there was poor ventilation and no medical screening, increasing the risk of transmitting infectious diseases like tuberculosis.

DOJ also found that facilities were antiquated, dilapidated, and operating at or near their safe capacity; facilities had inadequate perimeter fencing, poor sight lines, and lacked an adequate maximum security housing area; and inmates and detainees roamed freely, increasing the risk of harm from inmate-on-inmate violence and putting staff at an increased risk of harm.

The U.S. government sued the CNMI on Feb. 23, 1999. Two days later, DOJ and the CNMI entered into a consent decree.

The aims of the consent decree was to improve the conditions of the CNMI’s detention institutions that were deemed to violate the civil rights of those detained at the facilities, and to safeguard against future violations.

At the time, there were six facilities at issue: the Saipan Prison complex, the Saipan Detention Facility, the Kagman Youth Facility, the Saipan Immigration Detention Facility, the Tinian Detention Facility, and the Rota Detention Facility.

Today, there are only four facilities: the Adult Correctional Facility, the Juvenile Detention Unit, the Tinian Detention Facility, and the Rota Detention Facility.

The Adult Correctional Facility and the Juvenile Detention Unit are modernized facilities that were built in accordance with the consent decree. Tinian and Rota Detention Facilities are used as temporary holding facilities.

In their final report, Sablan and Murray said since the implementation of the consent decree, the parties have worked cooperatively to identify violations and address them.

The lawyers said the parties agree that the purpose of the consent decree has now been achieved and that termination of the consent decree is appropriate.

Construction of the new prison in Susupe began in 2002 with an initial cost of about $17 million that later ballooned to $20.9 million. The new prison opened in 2008.

The construction of the Juvenile Detention Unit was completed and opened for occupancy in 2004.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at

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