Children in the Cayman Islands as young as 14 are being housed in cells that are smaller than the average bathroom.
These juvenile offenders receive no counselling and if they are lucky, they get to spend one hour a day outside. None of the windows at the Eagle House Youth Detention Centre looks out on nature; invariably the only view on offer inside the facility is of concrete walls and razor wire.
Commissioner of Corrections William Rattray said on Wednesday, ‘The Cayman Islands could be in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.’ At Fairbanks Women’s Prison, girls as young as 12 have been mixed in with adult offenders.
Eagle House, the Juvenile and Young Offenders Unit attached to Northward Prison is ‘completely unsuitable for juvenile offenders and should be closed down’ according Mr. Rattray. He says the country needs to build a secure residential facility that offers a structured regime and a full time education programme.
The Commissioner of Corrections added that the staff at Eagle House is caring and dedicated to the children, but they are prison officers; not youth workers. He says the Ministry of Health and Human Services is in agreement that a new purpose-built facility is needed and this is in line with the rehabilitative agenda that Government has embarked on.
Head of Children and Family Services Mrs. Deanna Look Loy agrees.
‘We have been pushing to get the correct type of facility since 1987 and finally there is money in the budget, one million dollars has been approved and Mr. Anthony Eden is listening to us.’
Mrs. Look Loy says they will soon meet with the Public Works Department to identify a location and to go through the plans for the facility, she explained the drawings were in fact approved some years ago, but it was never built. She believes that finally there is the necessary will to see the process through and an appropriate secure residential unit will be built for young offenders.
The Commissioner explained the entire prison system in the Cayman Islands is now in the process of going through a major overhaul. In outlining some of the changes, he said the past year has focused on planning and preparation and over the upcoming year the implementation phase will be going into effect.
Already change is occurring.
Mr Rattray said two forensic psychologists have been hired and they will begin work in the prison system toward the end of September.
Also, the role of the prison officer is being re-developed and beginning on 3 September, all new officers will go through a two-year vocational training programme in custodial care.
A new vocational programme for inmates is also well on the way to being established and courses will be properly accredited through the Heart Trust in Jamaica.
When that is up and running, Mr Rattray says, prisoners will be able to receive qualifications in construction, plumbing, electrical wiring, air-conditioning repair and installation and horticulture, in addition to the courses that are already on offer, there will also be a course on running a small business. According to Mr. Rattray, the vocational training instructors have now been identified. Once the prisoners have received the necessary training through the vocational programme, Mr. Rattray is hoping to begin work on a new purpose-built prison facility using prison labour. He explained this will involve building a modern classroom, gymnasium, counseling and group room as well as a modern vocational training facility.
Other changes outlined by Mr. Rattray include an overhaul of the Cayman Islands Prison law, which he says is outdated and a new set of prison rules. Also on the 3 September he expects to sign a new protocol on internal discipline with the Complaints Commissioner Mr. John Epp.
Mr. Rattray believes it is important for the public to remember that prisoners are sent to jail as punishment, not for punishment and the prison system has a duty to give those who are incarcerated an opportunity to change their behaviours. He added that one day these same men and women will return to the communities they came from and the community has a responsibility to assist with the resettlement process.