200 prisoners at Northward

Eight adult male prisoners from Northward had to be moved to the Eagle House juvenile detention facility Monday as prison officials attempted to deal with 50 per cent overcrowding levels at Cayman’s only men’s prison.

eagle house

The sign at the entrance Eagle House juvenile detention facility.

Commissioner of Corrections and Rehabilitation William Rattray said there were 203 prisoners housed at Northward on Monday morning before the eight men were moved. The facility’s stated prisoner capacity is 135.

‘The reality is that Northward is very overcrowded,’ Mr. Rattray said.

Adult prisoners who were transferred to the juvenile and young adult facility are being kept separate from the younger men, according to Mr. Rattray.

‘At no time do they mix,’ he said. ‘They’re not mixing for recreational purposes; they’re not taking meals together.’

Eagle House generally keeps young offenders in two separate groups. Those under 16 are kept apart from those aged 16-21.

However, at the time the adult prisoners were moved from Northward, Eagle House had only one resident under 16. He was moved in with the older group to make way for the adult prisoners.

Mr. Rattray admits shifting adult prisoners to the juvenile offenders’ facility is not an ideal situation, but he hoped measures could be taken in the relatively near future to alleviate the situation. Just when that might happen wasn’t clear. Monday was not the first time adult prisoners have been temporarily moved to Eagle House.

‘I don’t expect anything over the next two weeks,’ he said.

In the longer term, the prison system is looking at a few new measures to reduce prisoner crowding problems at Northward.

The implementation of the alternative sentencing law, which allows for electronic monitoring of convicted offenders serving probation sentences, is expected soon. Mr. Rattray said this will take some of the overcrowding pressure off.

Also, the prison system has received funds in the current year’s budget to begin construction of new holding facilities at the Northward prison site. No completion date has been given for those new prisons.

Mr. Rattray said the construction process would be phased in, with new buildings being put up one at a time. Once a new holding facility is built, the older one it replaced will be razed.

Despite the overcrowding, Mr. Rattray said Her Majesty’s Cayman Islands Prison Service was rated among the lowest in escapes and levels of violence in a recent comparison to prison systems in Europe, Canada and New Zealand.

When compared to prisons in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Holland, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland and Sweden, the Cayman Islands had the highest rate of imprisonment and the highest level of overcrowding. However, it had the lowest level of violence out of all those systems and its inmates spent the most time outside their cells.

The Cayman Islands also had the lowest number of suicides in its prison system.

‘Despite being badly overcrowded, staff and prisoners are, through sentence planning, working together on a variety of activities and rehabilitative opportunities,’ Mr. Rattray said.