Improvements vowed, money needed
A United Kingdom prisons inspection report completed earlier this year on Her Majesty’s prison service in the Cayman Islands is expected to show the local lock-ups have received failing grades in all major areas.
Her Majesty’s Prisons Inspectorate typically reviews four general areas: safety, re-offending rates, legal responsibilities and how offenders do upon re-entry into the community.
According to information obtained by the Caymanian Compass, the local prison system received the lowest possible grade from the inspectorate in all of those general areas.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office-led inspectorate report, due to be released in February, is the culmination of what’s been an 18-month review into all conceivable aspects of the Cayman Islands prisons system. It is the first such comprehensive review to be done on the system since 2001.
“Before we embarked on this process, we didn’t know what best practice looked like; we didn’t know what a well-run prison looked like,” said Eric Bush, chief officer of the government’s Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs, which has overall responsibility for prisons management. “The [foreign office’s] adviser on prisons … will tell you that Northward [the prison for adult male offenders] is one of the best-run prisons in the Caribbean, but compared to a UK prison service, we’re horrible. “I don’t think anybody can say right now that we have been doing the right things, but we’re starting to do the right things,” Mr. Bush said. Multiple troubles, well-reported by local media, have plagued the prison system both at the men’s facility at Northward and also the women’s facility at Fairbanks, but also at the local juvenile corrections system, the police service jails and even the detention facility operated by the Immigration Department for illegal migrants.
Some of those include: the strip search of three teenage prisoners at Fairbanks women’s prison in December 2010 that was done in order to find two cell phones – one of which was in plain sight in the prison cell block; a government financial audit that found numerous examples of inadequate record keeping for expenses and mismanagement of prison construction projects including more than $1 million spent on a prison cellblock that was never completed; a declaration that the old Immigration Detention Centre was uninhabitable and unsafe; incidents where ganja was found within prison offices; and a failure to bring police jails up to standard in time to adhere to human rights requirements within the Cayman Islands Constitution Order.
Moreover, the local prisons system is not yet prepared for constitutional changes set to take effect in November 2013 that require the separation of juvenile and adult prisoners, as well as the separation of remanded prisoners and convicted offenders.
The good news, according to Mr. Bush, is that – having plumbed the depths of the problems within the prisons system – the territory is in a good position to order its rehabilitation. However, that is obviously going to take time and money; things the government has found itself to be remarkably short on in recent days.
“Certainly, in five to 10 years, there needs to be serious investment if the government and the people of the Cayman Islands want to see a truly productive prison system,” Mr. Bush said. “Some parts of the prisons are 10 years past their use date. We’re doing the best we can, but for there to be real improvement … there needs to be appropriate investment into the prison service.
“To be fair to any government, we need to provide them with a strategic plan that they buy into. That’s something we’ll hopefully have within the next six months.”
The first general area of concern looked at by UK prisons inspectors was security of the prisons facilities.
First, it found that Cayman needs appropriate facilities. Cayman handles what are known as Class A-, Class B-, Class C- and Class D-type offenders. Class D are the least serious, more minor or rehabilitated offenders; Class A is the highest-risk offender category.
However, according to UK inspectors, Northward could only be coded as a Class C prison facility.
“The infrastructure … of Northward would only meet a category C prison,” Mr. Bush said. “It needs better walls, better fencing, better [inmate] dorms, better segregation [of prisoners].” Acting Deputy Prisons Director Aduke Natalie Joseph-Caesar said there are quite a few things the prison service must do in the meantime to counteract potential security threats within the system.
“We need to work on how we communicate with inmates, how we build relationship; as opposed to just using physical security,” she said. “We get more intelligence [on prison activities] that way.” One area that both Northward and Fairbanks will carefully monitor and record is prisoner visits.
Mrs. Joseph-Caesar said records will be kept of who is coming to visit each inmate, how often they visit and when.
People have been found trying to bring in contraband, because the infrastructure of Northward and the physical area,” Mr. Bush said.
In addition, one of the recommendations made by the UK inspection team seeks to prevent the all-too-common practice of people from the outside tossing contraband over Northward’s fences.
“We need to secure our perimeter better by creating a wider distance between our fence and the public road,” Mrs. Joseph-Caesar said.
The prison property will also eventually bring Northward and Fairbanks prisons back into the same compound. The men’s and women’s adult lockups were separated following the 1999 prison riots. Mr. Bush has said that move should free up the Fairbanks facility in George Town for the Immigration Department’s migrant detention centre.
Another major problem with the Cayman Islands prison system is that it keeps no records of re-offenders who are in prison; this is also known as the recidivism rate.
That’s partly because Cayman does not have a legal definition for what is meant by recidivism, and therefore can’t track the rates by which convicted criminals tend to repeat their crimes once released.
To assist with this issue, the prison service has formed a 32-person team, including a psychologist, a qualified counsellor, two social workers and other trained staff to work with offenders while they are in prison.