By Bryan Manabat
Saipan-- Guam is seeking to alleviate the overcrowding situation at its correctional facility by transferring some of its inmates to Saipan. For the CNMI government, the plan means an estimated $4.3 million in new revenue.
CNMI and Guam officials vowed to consult residents before moving ahead with the plan.
Guam State Clearinghouse Officer Stephanie Flores said no agreement has been made yet.
"We’re in very preliminary discussions on how we can help and how we can be of help to each other," she said, stressing that there will be no movement of inmates until a decision is finalized.
"That will not happen unless the community of the CNMI is on board 100 percent. We want to make that very clear. We want to make sure this process is as transparent as possible, and we want everybody to ask the questions that they want," Flores said.
"We want to make sure that everybody is going into this with their eyes wide open, everybody’s expectations are managed, and everybody gets their questions answered as honestly as possible,” she said.
Some community members on Saipan support creative solutions to generate badly needed revenue.
"Things will be clearer to the public once you get an opportunity to flesh out all the details about the safeguards that will be in place and how the financing of the program will be handled in order to make it beneficial to the commonwealth and to assist with your Department of Correction operations to better all of the programs that you are facilitating," according to Glen Hunter, the CNMI governor's special assistant for BroadBand Policy & Development.
"States executing agreements like this with other states is not uncommon. We have the proper facilities to house inmates and if we have ample space it shouldn't matter where the inmates stem from. If a visitor from Guam came out here and committed a crime he would be placed in our prison. This doesn't create a financial burden and instead alleviates us from financial burdens," Hunter wrote on his social media post.
Some, however, frowned on the idea of accommodating Guam prisoners in the commonwealth.
"These are not tourists. The idea of importing convicted inmates is something I am not comfortable with," according to an educator, who requested anonymity. "Guam Department of Correction had years to come up with solutions with their prison system and now they are dumping their inmates on us and the worst part is, Commissioner Torres is bringing the welcome mat."
Guam prison's overcrowding situation is at an all-time high, according to Fred Bordallo, Guam's correctional director.
With 848 inmates, Bordallo said, Guam prisons have exceeded capacity.
"Right now, it's at the highest, the bulk of that includes pretrial detainees, who cannot be transferred anywhere, and the other half are those who have been adjudicated and sentenced," he said.
"Guam DOC started a reserve program, a backup security force, to address security concerns," he added.
NMI Correctional Commissioner Anthony Torres said the Saipan correctional facility conforms to Department of Justice requirements and has a total capacity to house 500 inmates. Currently, Torres said, the facility has 200 inmates. "We have space," he added.
Officials said the plans are still in their preliminary stages and will not go forward without input from the Guam and Saipan communities.
Guam officials came to Saipan last week to discuss the prison transfer plan with CNMI officials
Torres, for his part, said the community's opinion on the plan matters to the process.
"I ask the people of our commonwealth to be open-minded and to have trust and faith in me as we find ways to make this work," Torres said. "I will provide accurate information, address concerns, and create opportunities for open dialogue."
Torres said the discussion period will provide an opportunity "to identify funds to establish more training, staff retention and transformative rehabilitative programs for our inmates so that we set them up for success when they get out and become contributing members of our commonwealth."
Officials said the cost associated with transferring prisoners will be part of the negotiated agreement.
When they complete serving their time at the Saipan facility, the inmates will be returned to Guam.
Guam DOC had a similar plan to transfer inmates to the Saipan prison facility 11 years ago, but this had not materialized.
Guam plans to build a new state-of-the-art prison facility to address overcrowding in jails.