Another Cayman Islands government agency is reviewing what occurred during a 4 December strip search at Her Majesty’s Prison Fairbanks, the Caymanian Compass has learned.
The incident, which involved a search of three 18-year-old female prisoners at the facility during the hunt for a cellphone, has already come under review by the country’s Human Rights Commission. The commission told Governor Duncan Taylor earlier this year it was “extremely concerned” about “unwritten policies” governing strip searches within the prison system.
Now, the Compass understands Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams’ office has been looking into the incident for at least several weeks, following its receipt of a complaint about the 4 December incident.
Ms Williams declined to comment about the complaint last week, noting the matter was still under review by her office.
According to information obtained by the newspaper, the complaint made to the OCC details the same incident that occurred at Fairbanks the evening of 4 December, 2010, during which three teenage prisoners were asked to remove their clothing. Two prisoners who initially declined to be strip searched were physically wrestled to the ground and one had her shorts cut off, according to a sworn affidavit.
One of the inmates claimed her cellphone was lying on her bed in the prison dorm, within plain sight of the guards. Two cellphones and two sim cards were found during the search. It is not permitted for prisoners in either Fairbanks or Northward to have cellphones.
Following the incident, no fewer than four people – including two prison guards – reported hearing one of the prison officers involved in the search say, “that’s what you get for writing letters about officers”.
The day before the search some of the prisoners had sent letters complaining about certain prison rules and claiming guards were lazy or not doing their jobs.
The Caymanian Compass understands the complaint filed with Ms Williams’ office claims there were a total of 12 prison officers – including members of the prison service’s emergency response team on scene during the 4 December incident. According to the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs, three female officers entered the dorm to conduct the search while another five officers, some of them male, stood outside the dorm as “backup”.
Open records requests indicated there were three searches conducted in the presence of prison emergency response teams during 2010; one was a search at Northward prison’s ‘high risk unit’ in May, a second occurred at the central police station in George Town to assist police in relocating two inmates, and the third involved the 4 December, 2010 search at Fairbanks.
The complainant has also alleged that no strip searches of Northward prison inmates were conducted prior to those prisoners’ property being searched last year. A total of 74 cellphones were recovered at Northward during 2010.
According to a letter sent by Cayman Islands Human Rights Commissioner Richard Coles to Governor Duncan Taylor’s office in June: “We have written to the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs expressing our desire to have sight of the ‘comprehensive written procedures [being developed to] govern the way in which searches, including strip searches are conducted … Further, we implored the portfolio to ensure these procedures are implemented in a timely manner.”
Mr. Coles’ letter states the Human Rights Commission has reviewed “several complaints” made in relation to the prison system and was sending the letter to the governor to draw attention to some of those matters.
The letter made mention of other complaints in addition to those regarding strip searches and prison complaints procedures.
“We have had additional complaints related to the prison which we feel need to be investigated by an independent investigator, such as overseas territory prison coordinator Stephen Fradley,” Mr. Coles wrote. “We ask that you [referring to the governor] give serious consideration to commissioning such an independent review into the Cayman Islands prisons system.”
Mr. Coles’ June letter did not specify what the “additional complaints related to the prison” referred to in his letter might entail.
Governor Taylor sent a reply to Mr. Coles’ letter on 22 August. Mr. Taylor said a draft of the policy regarding prison strip searches was being reviewed by the attorney general’s office to determine whether it met all legal and international requirements.
The Caymanian Compass has requested a copy of that policy be released once it is finalised.
Mr. Taylor also expressed concerns about how the prison is handling complaints.
“It is clear to me that our current complaints procedures are too cumbersome,” the governor wrote, adding he hoped a revised simpler process could be agreed to shortly.