Juvenile prison changes delayed

The Cayman Islands draft constitution makes efforts to correct a number of international human rights abuses that have been identified in the detention of underage prisoners here, but those changes will not legally have to occur until four years after the new constitution takes effect.

Cayman Islands voters are to take part in a constitutional referendum on 20 May to determine whether the United Kingdom-approved draft will become the law of the land.

There are no legal requirements in Cayman that require juvenile prisoners to be separated from adults in prison. A criticising report done by the Human Rights Committee in 2007 identified situations where girls as young as 13 were being held in Fairbanks adult women’s prison and were not given legal counsel during youth court proceedings.

The Compass also reported last year that some adult male prisoners had to be shifted to the Eagle House juvenile detention facility because Northward prison was at 150 per cent capacity.

Commissioner of Corrections and Rehabilitation Bill Rattray has said repeatedly that housing juveniles and adult prisoners together is not good corrections’ practice. He said the prison system does keep the younger and older offenders separated at Eagle House as much as is possible.

Under the bill of rights in the draft constitution, section six deals with the treatment of prisoners.

It states: ‘Save where the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health or the administration of justice otherwise require, unconvicted prisoners shall be segregated from convicted prisoners, and every unconvicted prisoner shall be entitled to be treated in a manner appropriate as an unconvicted person.’

The document continues: ‘Juvenile prisoners shall be segregated from adult prisoners and every juvenile prisoner shall be treated in a manner appropriate to his or her age and legal status…’

Treatment of prisoners who had not been convicted was one of the major issues identified in the 2007 Human Rights Committee report where juveniles were detained pending trial. The report also identified a severe lack of appropriate facilities for juveniles accused of committing crimes.

An unnamed Cayman Islands judge was quoted in the HRC report as saying there was ‘no point’ in placing a juvenile prisoner at a deteriorating Frances Bodden girls’ home and that the Tranquillity Bay facility in Jamaica was uniformly bad.’

‘It is high time that we have a facility here or explore alternatives,’ the report quoted the judge as saying. ‘We need a secure facility with an education facility…we need a secure remand facility where [young people] can receive education therapy.’

Those needs carry a price tag.

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said earlier this week that was the main reason for the proposed four-year delay in changes to the treatment of those who have not been convicted and juvenile prisoners’ rights in the draft constitution.

‘The physical things that need to be done to make sure that happens are extremely costly,’ Mr. Tibbetts said. ‘It is physically impossible for the government to say, if we get a new constitution, and in a matter of months the date of effect takes place – that we will be able to satisfy that obligation.’

HRC chair Sara Collins questioned the need for delay of implementing this change and others in the draft bill of rights during a press conference about the proposal Monday.

‘If it is the ideal solution, why can’t we have it now?’ she asked.

Education Minister Alden McLaughlin explained his stance later on at the press conference:

‘Idealism is wonderful, and we all know what is, or believe what is, ideal,’ he said. ‘But politics is the art of what’s possible.’