Cayman Islands government officials will break ground on a new juvenile offenders remand facility in George Town later today.
However, just before the shovels hit the ground, the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee agreed to reduce the current year’s budget for the facility by some $1.7 million.
According to financial records released by the government on Tuesday, the budget for the project, initially set for around $3 million, was reduced to less than $1.3 million for the 2011/12 spending plan.
Community Affairs Minister Mike Adam told members of the committee that the juvenile justice centre would be built, but that there had been some planning approval delays and that government agreed to do the project in two stages.
“What we did decide to do was to phase the construction in two phases, one being the foundation only, which as you know, we are breaking ground … Thursday (today),” Mr. Adam told the committee. “Planning is reviewing the plans for the full contract that will also go out to tender in very short order.”
Mr. Adam said the remaining $1.7 million would be put back into the budget next fiscal year, which starts 1 July.
“We were projecting an earlier start, but things go delayed,” Mr. Adam said Wednesday. “But now we’re back on track.”
The initial phase involves laying down the foundations for the three buildings in the juvenile centre with a building footprint of some 25,000 square feet.
Minister Adam said the total amount would go toward completing the foundations, as well as some funds for design, mechanical, engineering and plumbing issues. Renovations to one of the buildings at the Bonaventure Boys Home also are to be done. The entire construction project is expected to be complete by May 2013, Mr. Adam said.
The site selected for the centre is in a heavily wooded area south of Fern Circle and west of Fairview Road in George Town.
Dorine Whittaker, chief officer for Mr. Adam’s ministry, said last year the Fairbanks-area site was proposed following discussions with a Missouri, USA-based consulting firm that advised keeping younger offenders closer to their families. A site in East End was originally proposed by the government.
“For the kids and their families to go back and forth to the East End site, there’s nothing out there,” Ms Whittaker said.
The Cayman Islands is required by the 2009 Constitution to construct a juvenile detention facility where younger offenders can be housed away from older prisoners, in line with international human rights practices. That must occur by November 2013, according to the governing document.
Mr. Adam has long maintained that simply building a new prison where juvenile offenders will be “warehoused” is not an option. He said government officials have spent considerable time studying details of Missouri’s juvenile offender programme, which has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the country, and have decided to go with what is often referred to as Missouri’s “softer” approach toward youth offenders.
“The ministry has been working toward a shift in practice,” Mr. Adam said. “We’re striving to rehabilitate those who have fallen on the wrong side of the law. Remember, these kids will return to the community one day and will live amongst you and I. What kind of person do you want in the community?”
According the Public Works Department, the facility off Fairview Road will be broken up into two residential “cottages” in the back of the main building with a secure fence surrounding the entire area. The fence is designed like a chain-link, but with smaller links so it cannot be scaled.
The main building consists of a visitors’ centre, a kitchen, a learning centre/library and a “secure unit” for juvenile offenders who need closer monitoring – usually those who have committed more serious offences.
The idea, based on the Missouri juvenile offender programme, is that the young people who must attend the facility as part of their sentence should not be locked in solitary confinement unless it’s absolutely necessary for their safety and the safety of others. Most activities will be scheduled in 10-person groups and daily education sessions will be held, just like school.
Mark Steward of the Missouri Youth Services Institute said his operation holds daily classes for youth offenders between 8am and 3.30pm, and beyond that, the youths have scheduled activities “from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed”. “Staff is always there with the kids; we don’t allow the opportunity for problems to occur when we’re not there,” he said.
“We didn’t want to build another prison, based on what we’ve seen in research [about] what can happen to young people,” Whittaker said. “This facility is for people under 17, it’s not for hardcore criminals.”
Ms Whittaker said Cayman will also begin on a more comprehensive approach to juvenile corrections, involving the education department, the prison system and various ministries.
“We are spending money right now … and if it was working, it wouldn’t be in the state it’s in right now,” she said.