Prison system called ‘lax’

Internal investigation promised
Comments made by prison officials have sparked outrage among Sabrina Schirn’s family members who told the Caymanian Compass they believe the prison system’s security failures are directly to blame for her killing.

The family has also stated that they believe more than one person was involved in the 21-year-old George Town woman’s death.

Police have arrested a 38-year-old prison inmate on suspicion of murder in connection with Sabrina’s death. The prisoner’s name is not being released by this newspaper because he has not been charged.

Sabrina’s decomposing body was found in a remote area of East End, Grand Cayman on 17 March by family members searching for her. She had disappeared six days earlier after leaving work at Blockbuster Video in Grand Harbour.

Royal Cayman Islands Police officers investigating the case have said the prison inmate they arrested was participating in a work detail on a prison-owned farm adjacent to the land where Sabrina’s body was found.

Sabrina’s father, John Schirn, told the Caymanian Compass Monday that he believes supervision and security measures taken to protect the public against the work programme prisoners were lax at best.

‘I can see areas where the farm is linked onto other properties where there’s no fencing,’ Mr. Schirn said. ‘Being a 200-acre farm, it seems to me very lax to have eight or 10 prisoners with just two (prison) officers.’

Police have not closed the case on Sabrina’s killing. There has been wide speculation in the community that at least one other person may have been involved, but no further arrests have been reported.

‘I believe more than one person was involved,’ Mr. Schirn said. ‘It’s just a feeling, knowing Sabrina. She was a very strong girl, full of life. It’s hard to believe that one person would be able to do that with her.’

A post-mortem on Sabrina’s body found she had suffered several sharp force injuries from an edged weapon, possibly a machete. Prisoners who participate in the work programme at the farm are sometimes given machetes to use in their work.

‘I’m troubled by the fact that the prisoners are able to have full use of tools which could be used as weapons, and the aspect that they’re able to roam fairly free,’ Mr. Schirn said.

Sabrina’s body was also found about a mile away from where the car she was driving was discovered. Police have remained silent about how she came to be in that remote area of East End.

Mr. Schirn said he had no idea what brought his daughter out there.

Corrections Commissioner Bill Rattray said last week that only prisoners considered ‘lower risk’ individuals are allowed off prison grounds to participate in the work detail at the farm. He acknowledged, however, that it was impossible for every officer at the farm to be able to see every single prisoner at every part of the working day.

‘If they thought that they were unable to keep these guys under complete control, they shouldn’t have been there in the first place,’ Mr. Schirn said.

‘One of the things I would like to see is that, before the programme does go on, is that they do a complete investigation into the security that they have down there and also the conditions under which the prisoners are allowed to work,’ he said. ‘It basically shows that anyone who drives that street or who lives in the area is prone to be a victim.’

Mr. Rattray said there has been a security review of each work detail prisoner on the farm since Sabrina’s killing.

Chief Immigration Officer Franz Manderson, currently acting as chief officer of the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs, promised that there would be a full internal review of the incident following the completion of the criminal probe.

‘All events and actions taken by prison officers will be reviewed to determine whether any further action is necessary within the prison service,’ Mr. Manderson said.

Although police have taken some public criticism about their handling of the investigation early on, Mr. Schirn said they have at least in part redeemed themselves with an arrest. He said he hopes RCIPS stays on the case.

‘The police seem to have been trying to work with the family,’ he said. ‘We’re hoping the investigation is still being pursued.’

Acting Police Commissioner James Smith last week said that it was an ongoing case, but declined to discuss further details.

Mr. Schirn also thanked the community for its support and for turning out to honour Sabrina’s memory at her funeral on Saturday.

‘The crowd filled the church and it was standing room only at the back,’ he said, adding that he hoped his daughter’s death would serve as a warning to young people.

‘Maybe have a little bit more communication with parents and peers…take care of themselves a little bit more.’