Prison overcrowding eases

The population at Northward Prison has seen a significant reduction from a year ago when prison officials were forced to move adult prisoners to the Eagle House juvenile detention facility.

However, information provided by Commissioner of Corrections and Rehabilitation William Rattray showed that there are now more adult prisoners being kept at Eagle House.

‘At last count there were at least 12,’ Mr. Rattray said, referring to adult prisoners being housed at the juvenile facility.

According to prison records, as of 31 July there were 173 adult male prisoners on Grand Cayman, including those being kept at Eagle House. Of those 173 prisoners, 145 have been convicted of crimes and are serving custodial sentences.

The prison’s stated capacity is 135 people, so the facility remains well overcrowded.

That’s a significant drop from September 2008, when more than 200 adult males were being held at Northward.

The Eagle House population stood at 16 as of 31 July, with six convicted prisoners and 10 being held awaiting the resolution of their criminal matters.

Mr. Rattray said it’s likely, according to information he’s gotten from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service that the number of prisoners at Northward would increase again in the coming month.

‘(The overcrowding relief) is very, very temporary,’ he said. ‘We know from our conversations with police…that these numbers could go up very quickly. Clearly there is significant fluctuation.’

The prisoners themselves have helped build a number of new buildings on the Northward site of the past few years. Those include a waiting area for visitors, educational facilities, a health clinic and a staff training area.

‘Virtually all of it, construction, wiring, plumbing…95 per cent of it has been done by prisoners,’ Mr. Rattray said.

Planning approval is being sought for the construction of a new cell block for Northward prisoners, and the commissioner wants work to start on that facility in the coming months.

‘We’re still seriously overcrowded,’ he said.

Keeping adult prisoners with juveniles at the Eagle House facility is not an ideal situation for the prison system. Mr. Rattray said the younger prisoners are kept separate from the adults as much as possible.

Cayman will, in fact, not be allowed under the civil rights provisions of its new constitution to continue to house juvenile prisoners with adults. However, the section of the constitution that deals with that issue is not due to come into force for four more years.