Cayman’s top prison official said Her Majesty’s Cayman Islands Prison Service did not act negligently following the arrest of 38-year-old Northward prisoner in connection with the death of Sabrina Schirn on Friday.
Police had not formally charged the man at press time Sunday, but said the suspect was part of a daily work release programme on the 200-acre prison-owned ‘Wilderness Farm’, located about a mile from where the 21-year-old woman’s body was found almost three weeks ago.
Commissioner of Corrections and Rehabilitation, William Rattray, said the suspect was not serving time for violent crime and had been rated a category C security risk prisoner on a scale of A (highest risk) to D (lowest risk). Only category C and D prisoners are allowed out on the work release programme.
‘There is no way we could have predicted such a violent incident being perpetrated by a prisoner at the farm,’ he said.
Mr. Rattray would not speculate on how the prisoner might have left the partially fenced prison farm to carry out the killing without prison officers noticing but insisted the prison service ‘did not negligently put Sabrina’s life at risk’.
‘It is a large area and therefore, just as a teacher in a classroom can’t have his or her eyes on every single pupil at every single moment, nor is it possible for every officer at the farm to be able to see every single prisoner at every part of the working day,’ Mr. Rattray said.
Neighbours have long complained about lax supervision and wandering prisoners in the area.
Top police commanders declined to speculate about why Sabrina went to the area, whether she knew the arrested man or whether he was assisted by anyone else.
They also declined to release details of a pathologist’s report that may shed light on the amount of time between the Blockbuster Video employee’s disappearance and her death.
Family and friends said a final goodbye to Sabrina at a funeral at the Agape Worship Centre in George Town Saturday. The Schirn family declined a Caymanian Compass invitation to comment on the arrest, but they have previously expressed major concern about the way police have handled the investigation.
Describing security arrangements at the prison farm, Mr. Rattray said groups of eight to 12 prisoners are typically supervised by two prison officers trained in horticultural instruction, but he admitted the prisoners are not under constant supervision.
‘This incident, in our view, is an aberration that could not have been predicted,’ he said.
Defying public outrage at how the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service handled the case, Police Superintendent Marlon Bodden insisted police officers would conduct the investigation no differently if they were to do it over.
‘I have complete confidence in the experienced investigators, particularly Detective Inspector Kim Evans and his team of very experienced investigators,’ he said.
‘We would not have done anything differently.’
The police service has been buffeted by a wave of public criticism over its handling of the case, including allegations they ignored reports of Sabrina being threatened by an identified man and her tyres being slashed in the days before her disappearance.
They were accused of not taking the case seriously, even after the car Sabrina was last seen using was found in a remote area of East End on the night of 16 March.
Members of Sabrina’s family discovered her body nearby the next day. They had taken it upon themselves to search the area in the absence of any readily noticeable police presence conducting searches.
Mr. Rattray warned against knee-jerk reactions against the work release programme, but revealed there has been a security review of every prisoner involved in the program since the incident.
‘The programme has been very successful up until now,’ he said, adding it was the first ‘serious incident’ at the farm.
Acting Police Commissioner James Smith described the arrest as a ‘significant development’ in the case, but acknowledged investigators working on the case have plenty more work ahead of them.
‘Officers continue to look into the incident and we will do that until we are confident that all lines of enquiry have been exhausted,’ Mr. Smith said.
Acknowledging that the prisoner’s arrest will undermine public confidence in the prison system, Mr. Rattray pledged that the service will do all it can to protect the public.
But he noted that prison officials are faced with the sometimes conflicting priorities of protecting society as well as rehabilitating prisoners.
‘Every time we reduce a prisoner’s security level to facilitate his or her rehabilitation, we take a risk,’ he said.