Missouri answers youthful offenders

The Cayman Islands has just finished playing host to juvenile prison gurus from the US state of Missouri.

Their visit to our shores came after members of the Ministry of Community Affairs trekked to the US to take a look at the juvenile prison system that apparently is working in Missouri.

The question that looms is, can the Cayman Islands implement and afford the Missouri system?

Cayman is under the gun, so to speak, when it comes to the way it handles prisoners in general and juvenile offenders specifically.

The 2009 Constitution is forcing the changes, which must be in place by November 2013.

Basically juvenile prisoners have to be segregated from adult prisoners. One would think that would be the norm in any society, but it isn’t, specifically because of overcrowding.

An overflow of prisoners at Northward is forcing Government to send adult males to the juvenile Eagle House detention facility.

While the prisoners are kept in separate cells, they are mingling. What that means, usually, is that the younger offenders are learning from the older ones how to be better at offending.

And that’s not good.

Under the Missouri model, corrections officials are more like teachers and help the youngsters work on the issues that landed them in the prison system in the first place.

The facilities for juveniles in Missouri are said to look more like college dormitories than prisons.

Family members are encouraged to visit the youngsters at these facilities and the youths are kept busy from the time they wake up until the time they go to bed.

And the youngsters aren’t released until they show true progress and change the behaviours that got them into trouble in the first place.

The Missouri system didn’t happen over-night; rather it evolved.

Today it is turning out young people who have become productive citizens instead of a continuing burden on the prison system and the state’s coffers.

Cayman is at a point that it desperately needs to do something about its prison system and, specifically, young offenders.

Right now we’re spending more than $56,000 for each prisoner housed in the Cayman Islands penal system.

Can we afford to implement the Missouri system? We can’t afford not to.