Prison chief, lawyers back HRC report

The head of Cayman’s prison system has thrown his weight behind a report criticising the detention of children in adult jails in Cayman, saying new facilities are required here.

Commissioner of Corrections and Rehabilitation William Rattray says Cayman needs a dedicated facility for young offenders – in the form of a secure residential school – particularly for girls.

‘Prison is entirely the wrong place for young persons,’ Mr. Rattray told the Caymanian Compass.

‘Children have very different needs to adults and, obviously, prisons are geared to caring for adults and not caring for children.’

With a lack of appropriate facilities to deal with youth offenders, prison staff is left to muster whatever resources it can to assist the children that come into its care, he explained.

The HRC report identified a litany of international human rights breaches in Cayman stemming from the detention of children, some as young as 13, at Fairbanks prison. The report followed an HRC examination of the cases of five girls, aged between 13 and 16, that came before the Youth Court earlier this year.

Mr. Rattray believes there is consensus agreement among government agencies on the need for a secure residential school and hopes last week’s HRC report will bring the relevant agencies together and act as a catalyst for change.

Meanwhile, the Cayman Islands Criminal Bar Defense Association, a group of defense attorneys working in the Cayman Islands court system, is also urging action on improving facilities for young offenders. They say a wide ranging review of Cayman’s youth justice system is required.

‘In the absence of properly tailored youth facilities, the court is unable to comply with basic, internationally recognised standards of treatment and is therefore unable to deal with young offenders justly,’ the association said in an email to the Caymanian Compass.

It continued: ‘This situation will continue until the legislature is prepared to undertake a wide ranging review of the youth justice system in the Cayman Islands.

‘Such a review would need to deal with improved access to legal advice for young persons, the speeding up of the judicial process and the establishment of better residential facilities for both young women and men.’

Mr. Rattray said the need for a secure residential school is most pressing for girls, particularly in cases where they cannot be kept at, or abscond from, the Francis Bodden Girls’ Home – as happened in cases the HRC investigated.

By contrast, he says the detention of young male offenders at Northward prison is less frequent and the prison has the capacity to keep juveniles and adults separate.

Mr. Rattray explained how young female offenders typically come to be detained at Fairbanks prison.

‘What tends to happen, as was highlighted in the HRC report, is that if the children are sent to Francis Bodden Girls’ Home and subsequently abscond from there, they are put into Fairbanks as a place of safety.

‘On the one hand it sounds quite harsh – putting youngsters into prison – but a number of them have to be put in there because they are actually at risk once they run away from the Francis Bodden Girls’ Home.

‘Often they are put in Fairbanks as a place of safety because there is nowhere else to put them,’ Mr. Rattray said.

Although he could not give an exact number, Mr. Rattray confirmed there are girls housed in Fairbanks Prison.

‘The numbers vary. Rarely would it get above four or five,’ he explained.

‘Personally, I feel for the magistrates, because they clearly don’t want to do this. At the same time, they have a responsibility for the safety of the children and in the absence of anywhere else, they have to go to Fairbanks,’ he said.

‘As the Human Rights Committee rightly points out, [the detention of children in adult prisons] is in direct contravention of several international agreements that the Cayman Islands are signatories to. Consequently, we really have no choice but to do something about it – that’s the bottom line.’