Prisons chief airs concerns

Speaking to the Finance Committee on the state of the Cayman Islands Director of Prisons Dwight Scott declared prisons in the Cayman Islands rate no higher than a six on a scale of one to 10.

‘We have issues such as increased numbers, a change in the types of offenders, security challenges, the concern for ensuring the public feels safe, and a lack of meaningful activities for the prisoners,’ he said Thursday.

Crediting staff faced with daily challenges and some very tough tasks, he made the statement during questioning by the finance committee about the unprecedented $11.5 million allocated for prisons and rehabilitation in the 2006/07 budget, a $1 million increase over last year.

A total of $10.36 million will be allocated to custody, escorting and supervision of prisoners, and the remainder will be allocated for rehabilitation programs.

Figures show that $53,000 is allocated per prisoner, and Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush questioned the priorities within society such a policy revealed, asking that the government re-examine the many services prisoners have access to.

Some committee members questioned the circumstances that could give rise to such a large prison allocation in a country with a population of 42,000. Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs official member George McCarthy told the committee the situation would be examined.

The committee heard from Mr. Scott that ongoing random drug testing consistently reveals an 11 per cent positive rate. He admitted security concerns are a contributing factor, and welcomed the allocation of $75.000 for the construction of an additional fence around Northward prison.

Mr. McCarthy expressed his hope that renewed emphasis on rehabilitation efforts through such avenues as the existing agriculture education program and future educational and training ventures, in coordination with other social support services, will aid prisoners in successfully re-entering society once they are released.

He told the committee that until new services were in place, there was little to prevent prisoners who were otherwise unoccupied to spend their time devising ways to ‘beat the system.’ He also said that Cayman’s high recidivism rate was certainly due in some cases to addiction problems that see some prisoners continually re-offending.

However, major plans for refurbishment of existing facilities or restructuring of the prison system will be put on hold until the new Commissioner of Corrections and Rehabilitations is hired.

The committee also heard concerns about health care within the prison system, prisoners’ access to telephones and the ongoing efforts to recruit more Caymanians into the prison service.

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