Prison strip search ridiculous

OMG… I could not believe the Compass front page of October 7th, 2011; Brent Fuller’s informative article titled ‘Teen Prisoners strip searched’.

I had heard about this incident earlier this year and at that time it reminded me of an article I read some years ago by AJ Sebock titled New York City’s $50 million strip-search suit settlement.

I was sickened by the AJ Sebock story on how guards (at a whim) forcibly had women’s breasts lifted, while others were forced to squat and cough. Some women were threatened if they did not disrobe quickly enough. Others were forced to retrieve their clothing after it had been tossed across the room by abusive prison officers. I pondered on that disgusting article when reading Mr. Fuller’s October 7th story. I asked myself, such brutality could not possibly be taking place in Cayman; after all we are not some third world country, some repressive regime that denies its citizens political rights and civil liberties. No way, not Cayman. I refused to believe that.

Until reading the AJ Sebock report I had never been an advocate of prisoners’ rights. My view has always been if you do the crime, do the time and let’s throw away the key. The Cayman strip search incident of December 2010 was followed a few months later with a Compass article where First Officer Franz Manderson said “the public needed to understand that the loss of liberty is punishment and that when inmates are incarcerated they should not be mistreated. “We don’t send people to prison to be punished at the prison, inmates should be given their basic rights.”

Just what is going on behind the razor wire at HMCIP? A strip search of three teens 24 hours after they write a complaint letter reeked of retaliation. I dug further into this incident using the Freedom of Information Law, which I think is the best thing since sliced bread. My requests were professionally and efficiently answered by HMCIP’s information officer. What I read shocked my cold hearted attitude on human rights.

Some 74 cell phones were seized at Northward in 2010 without the use of strip searching the male inmates. Yet at Fairbanks, 24 hours after inmates wrote a complaint letter, three teen girls were strip searched for a cell phone that was openly lying on the bed of one of the young inmates. First you strip search and then you property search? This makes no sense – it’s like placing the cart in front of the horse. The prison’s justification for routine strip searching before a property search was “officers must first ensure that no inmate possesses any weapon and to reduce the risk of assault or harm when conducting any type of search.” OK, I would buy that if 74 iron pumping male prisoners were also strip searched for their illicit phones. Why strip search young females and not males? Seems cowardly to me.

Another interesting and disturbing thing about the Fairbanks incident of December 2010 is that besides the three officers on duty additional officers from the Emergency Response Team (known as a SWAT team in the USA) were sent to Fairbanks to assist in searching for the phone in the possession of one teen. Some officers were off duty and called in from their home. Four of those were male officers. My FOI information claims the male officers were sent there as “back-up”. Back-up? They were looking for a cell-phone in the possession of a young girl, NOT a bomb, pistol, knife or machete. What an absurd excuse. Back-up! Give me a break!

If male officers were not allowed in this incident to witness or take part in the strip-search of females (the law is very clear on this) then why were men officers sent to Fairbanks in the first place? In 2010 the Prison Emergency Response Team was called on only three occasions – two of those incidents were over serious matters and one to remove a cell phone from a young girl in December 2010.

My FOI information further states that prison officials knew which inmate at Fairbanks had the phone; in the document the prisoner was identified by name. So why did the director of the prisons simply not pick up the phone and ask the guards on duty to remove the phone from that young person? Your guess is as good as mine. Then I took my investigation further. I visited inmates at Northward and Fairbanks and I can tell you – in spite of public opinion this is no Hilton or Ritz. Some guards scrutinise your presence behind dark shades and smiling faces are rare. Close observation of inmates and visitors mingling makes security sense – but what’s with the sunshades inside an average lighted room? I also spoke to past inmates now released and even a few prison guards – on the condition of anonymity. All were stunned at the strip search incident; all agreed they had never heard of such brutality and show of force involving a cellphone. When I say brutality I mean one young girl was cuffed, held down, clothes torn and bruised. She did visit a doctor the next day. All for a cell phone that carries a fine of $25.

Sure hope my good friend Minister Mike Adam (in charge of Gender Affairs) is reading this. I want him to ask Mr. Manderson and the Governor why in searching for a cellphone does HMCIP strip search young females and not males. Seems cowardly to me. Why send an emergency response team to assist – yet no ERT to Northward to seize 74 phones throughout 2010? And let’s not forget this spineless event ensued 24 hours after the female prisoners wrote a letter of complaint. This could be classified as sexual discrimination, or could it be a malicious abuse of the process – a retaliation!

First Officer Franz Manderson doesn’t seem to think so, in spite of the fact that the records show three of his prison guards have a different take on the incident. One guard went so far as to shout at the inmates immediately following the strip search – “that’s what you get for writing letters about officers”. While two other officers thought that the strip search was brought on due to a complaint letter wrote. This is not Marl Road gossip – this I’ve read in FOI responses that I received. Some officers were reprimanded. Though it was a mere slap on the wrist, I wonder why would Mr. Manderson reprimand the officers if he truly believed that the search was proper handled ? Why would he apologise to families if the strip search was standard procedure? Your guess is as good as mine.

Mr. Manderson says in a written report – “I have directed that written policies and procedures be established to avoid a repetition of this type of event in the future”. On one hand the body strip search was standard procedure – on the other hand policies will be written to avoid the procedure? That just doesn’t gel. If no strip searches were used to confiscate 74 cell phones at Northward – would that not indicate that the standard procedure is not to strip search for cell phones or sim cards? Mr. Manderson also writes in his report – “It should be noted that the complaint letter was in relation to a policy decision made by prison management and was not directed at any prison officer”. I have had the opportunity to read the complaint letter in question; it contradicts Mr. Manderson’s view. In reality there are several criticisms quoting the laziness and unprofessionalism of some guards.

I am not intentionally beating up on Mr. Manderson; in truth I have always had the upmost respect for him. During his many years working in high government positions I have always found him to be fair with an open door policy. So I can only wonder why his view is opposite of the facts? Your guess is as good as mine.

Rules are rules and if the prison say’s no cell phones there should be no exceptions. The rule also applies to guards who are supposed to leave their personal cell phones outside the prison compound. I wonder if this rule is enforced ? Let’s keep in mind not all inmates are child molesters, drug smugglers or bank robbers. There are prisoners serving time for poaching conch in a marine park. Let’s not forget Mr. Manderson’s words of wisdom –“inmates should be given their basic rights”. The United Nations agrees with Mr. Manderson on that passage. Here is what they have to say:

“Prisoners MUST be protected from reprisals for complaining – Strip searching must never be used as punishment. No woman should be strip searched unless, in the specific circumstance, when it is reasonable and justifiable to do so. Any decision to strip-search a woman should be taken on a case–by-case basis. Strip searches of women should be exceptional – NOT routine. Searches must not be used at the whim of guards, searches must only be used when necessary and in the line with legal criteria. They go on to say, It is very rare indeed for anything illicit to be found as a result of strip searching women. Discrimination between male and female; everyone is entitled to all rights and freedoms set forth, without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex.

The obvious, uncalled for act of vengeance at Fairbanks should raise eyebrows with the Governor and the Human Rights Commissioner. If not, they need to stop drinking tea and go to work.

G Nowak


  1. OMG you mean northward is not a hotel where lobster is served and inmates are wined and dined. Thank you prison officers for doing an excellent job. Mr Manderson thank you for standing up for justice.

    What is missing from this story is that these inmates were in prison for a good reason. They did’t just happen to fall in prison. They committed crimes that were serious enought to warrant a prison sentence. The brave guards at the prison has a right to protect themselves from these inmates. At least we are not reading about a prison officer being injured or killed. Well done officers we are proud of you.

  2. Shoeman , though most of what you say is correct , I however agree with OMG. No justice is served when people in charge of guarding law breakers break the law themselves. Retaliation against a prisoner for writing a letter is against all international rules and or laws.

  3. This doesn’t bother me a bit. The fact that the prisoners were hiding illegal cell phones is more than enough justification for the searches. Some supposed claim of retailiation is just typical prisoner behavior.

  4. I commend the brave officers at the prison. They have to work with criminals every day- criminals who have taken the lives of others and others who have committed serious offences. I really can’t blame them if they took a SWAT team with them to search. I would too. Remember its a Prison

  5. It’s easy to stand on the outside, make assumptions and critique.
    Not just for our prison system but any on-island organization.
    Live their job for a half year; then re-comment.
    If your opinion hasn’t change then you’re a better person than I am.
    Prison personnel, Good Luck; and I don’t mean the clientele.

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