Report: Close prison work farm

An independent review has recommended that Northward Prison shut down its work farm on the eastern end of Grand Cayman, following the killing of a young woman near that property.

Twenty-one-year-old Sabrina Schirn was killed in March, allegedly by a Northward prisoner who was working at the Wilderness Farm site and managed to escape the notice of prison officers. That inmate, Randy Lebert Martin, has since been charged with Ms Schirn’s murder.

A 23-page report, written following the review by local attorney Orren Merren and Stephen Fradley, an advisor from the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said leaving that site open for prisoner work release programmes was simply too risky.

‘The farm is too far from (Her Majesty’s Prison) Northward in the event of any incident needing a prompt response,’ the report stated. ‘Moreover, the vast expanse (some 200 acres) with so many areas in which to hide, there are entirely too many opportunities for prisoners to abscond, cultivate illegal crops for use or sale, or worse.’

The report recommended that a work site closer to the prison be used to teach inmates farming skills, and suggested that the Wilderness Farm land be sold or leased to profit the Cayman Islands prison system.

In general, the review found that in-prison and out-of-prison work training programmes should be continued and expanded. Reviewers questioned why more ‘productive areas’ for prisoners’ future employment were not receiving greater focus.

‘Horticultural skills and experience gained by prisoners on work parties involved in farming are of limited benefit,’ the report read. ‘But effective opportunities for rehabilitation must not be closed down just because a prisoner breaches those safeguards.’

Commissioner of Corrections and Rehabilitation William Rattray was quoted in the report as stating that Northward prisoners had spent about 435,000 hours outside the perimeter of the prison site between July 2003 and March 2009

The report stated 210 prisoners were being housed at Northward at the time of the review.

Some suggestions were made in the review for improving the prison system’s security risk evaluation and labour allocation procedures. However, Mr. Merren’s team found the current procedures to be ‘reasonably robust…and functioning property.’

Problems were found in the classification of prisoners as lower risk in certain instances. For example, a prisoner could be considered low-risk for escaping or committing violent acts, but could still have a high rate of substance abuse and corresponding erratic behaviour. In some cases, such a prisoner might actually fall into security Category D – the lowest risk level for prisoners.

Randy Martin, the inmate charged in the March killing, was classified as a lower-risk prisoner and therefore was able to qualify for work-release off the Northward Prison site.

Mr. Rattray pointed out that Sabrina Schirn’s death was the only incident to be confirmed by prison officials where a member of the public had been put at risk during a work release detail since 2003. Mr. Merren’s report makes vague reference to a separate incident that was alleged to have involved an inmate outside the prison. However, no prisoner was ever found guilty in that instance.

‘From our limited observations and interviews in this regard, it was not possible for us to draw definitive conclusions regarding how well prisoners are currently being supervised and managed outside the prisons,’ the report read.

The review recommended that a national strategic rehabilitation plan be formulated by the prison system, the Department of Community Rehabilitation and community programme providers to begin assisting prisoners as soon as possible after they begin their sentences.

Right now, it’s estimated some 40 per cent of Northward prisoners refuse to participate in sentence management programmes that include job training. Mr. Merren’s report recommended that at least some participation be made mandatory.

‘When faced with the reality that most prisoners will be released some day, the costs and risks from non-rehabilitation far outweigh the costs and risks that a prisoner could abscond or offend while working outside the prison,’ the report stated.

Indeed, the review found that some employment service providers had actually run into difficulty while attempting to assist prisoners.

‘For example, delays… have adversely impacted (Department of Employment Relations programme coordinator) Jean Solomon being able to conduct her ‘Preparing for the Job Market’ programme at the prisons,’ the prison review stated. ‘Unfortunately, the Prison Programmes Approval Panel has, to date, served more as an obstacle to…such access to meaningful work experience outside the prisons.’

Mr. Rattray has previously explained that service programmes were not allowed to continue at the prisons unless they applied to the programmes panel and were approved by members. The report noted that the delay caused by this process has frustrated some programme providers.