Prisoner rehab plans falter

A lack of funding, training and expertise is hampering the Cayman Islands prison system’s efforts to rehabilitate its inmates, an independent report commissioned by Governor Stuart Jack’s office has found.

Attorney Orren Merren led a review at Her Majesty’s Prison at Northward following the murder of a young woman, allegedly by an inmate who had wandered off a work site outside the prison. Mr. Merren suggested in his report that the prison service might consider stepping aside from management of inmate rehabilitation programmes in the future.

‘Secure custody and good order are the first order of priority,’ Mr. Merren wrote in his report. ‘That…is a necessary fact and is not intended as a criticism. However, it does suggest that (the prison service) may not be best suited to take the lead in delivering rehabilitation to prisoners.’

The prison system has for several years been attempting to initiate what’s known as a sentence management programme at Northward. Sentence management, also known as sentence planning, is a structured programme that sets certain goals for inmates to meet during their incarceration.

Those goals might include; sustained improvement in mental and physical health; improved literacy; increased options for employment upon their release; and how to maintain better relationships with family members and the community at large.

Commissioner of Corrections and Rehabilitation William Rattray has previously said that some prison officers would receive additional training to act as prisoner advisers in the sentence management programme. However, he said more officers and additional training would be needed.

‘We were informed that the present hiring and promotions freeze now affecting (the prison system) has constrained the ability of (the prison system) to effectively arrange for such training,’ the report stated.

Mr. Rattray agreed with the independent report’s assessment that the prison service’s rehabilitation efforts would face limits ‘even with the best of efforts and intentions.’

‘In the first place, only a few prisoners receive aftercare and support in the community in order to prevent relapse,’ he said. ‘Moreover, not all prisoners join the sentence planning scheme.’

The report noted about 40 per cent of Northward inmates do not participate in any sentence management programmes, and that the service does not force them to do so. Prisoners who do not participate in such programmes are essentially left without a support network when they are released.

Those prison inmates considered lower-risk are also allowed to participate in programmes outside the Northward compound. Some of these prisoners are allowed to participate in the pre-release employment scheme, which provides work experience for the lowest risk category of inmate.

‘However…at present the (pre-release employment scheme) programme does not appear to be functioning adequately and is not placing prisoners in work experience opportunities outside the prisons,’ Mr. Merren’s report noted.

The independent report noted that, whether it is conducted by the prison system or some other agency such as probation and aftercare, an aggressive sentence management and rehabilitation programme for Northward prisoners should continue to be pursued.

‘It would be straightforward to focus entirely on keeping prisoners securely locked up,’ the report stated. ‘This may appear to be less risky in the short term, and in any society there may always be some who favour this approach.’

‘What this view overlooks, however, is that in the long term almost every prisoner at Northward and Fairbanks (female prison) will be released into the community.’