British authorities that inspected Her Majesty’s Prison at Northward and other custodial facilities in Grand Cayman have declared conditions as “appalling”, “squalid” and “barely fit for human habitation”.
The inspection, commissioned by Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor, was conducted by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, the government agency that scrutinises detention facilities in England and Wales for the United Kingdom.
In addition to Northward and the women’s prison at Fairbanks, the inspection also included the custody suites at central George Town, West Bay and Bodden Town, as well as the court cells in George Town. Officials were unable to visit the lockup facility on the Sister Island of Cayman Brac.
According to the inspectorate’s report, which was released publicly Tuesday, “Northward was not a safe prison” and prisoners at Northward did not feel safe, with many reporting feeling “depressed or suicidal”.
“The segregated conditions used to hold both the refractory and the vulnerable were disgraceful and unaccountable. Prisoners, some with mental conditions, were held in squalid conditions, without any legitimate safeguards or authority,” noted the inspectors.
Though Fairbanks fared slightly better than the men’s counterpart at Northward, the report found that, “Both institutions were in poor physical condition and in dire need of significant investment. Cells in Northward were dark, stifling and intimidating. Prisoners lived in overcrowded wings devoid of privacy. Conditions were shambolic with most accommodation barely fit for human habitation.”
The high risk unit of the prison was singled out as particularly deplorable. “A small number of prisoners were locked up in appalling conditions for extended periods each day, and in some cases for many years. In our view, the facility had no legitimacy.”
Staff-prisoner relationships were also determined to be poor by the UK’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick. “Staff were at best passive and at worst indifferent to the needs of prisoners,” he said.
Mr. Hardwick added that the provision of healthcare was poor, “falling short of acceptable basic clinical standards”.
One bright spot was the chief inspector noting that prisoners experienced considerable time out of cell and in the open air. However, he also concluded that there was little for prisoners to do with both Northward and Fairbanks being characterised by “indolence and inactivity”.
With regard to reintegration programmes and counter recidivism strategies, the report said, “The prisons similarly lacked a strategy to support resettlement. Work with partner agencies on the Islands was uncoordinated and there was no assessment of need across the prison. The effective planning of sentences was optional and few prisoners knew who to turn to for basic resettlement advice and support.”
The Cayman Islands has a recidivism rate of 63 per cent, which is among the highest in the region. Prison officials have said the number is higher than other jurisdictions because the assessment methods used in Cayman are more widely accepted and less rigid.
“Recidivism is usually measured over a three- to five-year period and categorised by a particular offence, but in Cayman we say if you come back to prison, even for a different crime, we count that as recidivism,” said Dwight Scott, the former director of the prison system in the Cayman Islands. “It probably means that our numbers are higher than areas where other methodology is used, but for all practical purposes, if the person is coming back to prison, we see that as recidivism.”
Mr. Scott retired from his post weeks prior to the publication of the chief inspector’s report. Months prior to the inspection of Her Majesty’s prisons, the Cayman Islands prison service had been wrought with scandal due to incidents of ganja being found in administrative offices, officers being assaulted by inmates and 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.
The report found that, “High numbers of prisoners arrived at Northward either with drug or alcohol problems and our survey found that a further 13 per cent developed a problem while in prison.”
Custody suites and court cells
“There were no agreed standards or policies/guidelines against which the quality of police custody,” Mr. Hardwick said. “Steps were being taken to rectify this situation and there was a draft [Royal Cayman Islands Police Service] custody policy being written, which was to be critiqued by the Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission.
“However, at the time of the inspection, staff had to rely on common sense and custom and practice,” he added. “This meant that standards of care for detainees were not consistent and there were clear examples of poor and unregulated discretion being used that had a negative impact on the care of detainees.”
The report added that, “The main police station in George Town and the station at West Bay had both been condemned some time before the inspection, but were still in use. The custody suites were appalling and not fit for use.”
The damning nature of the findings was compounded by poor officer training and virtually no record keeping process for adverse incidents that occurred in police custody. The report also noted that closed-circuit television was not available in all police stations and, where it was installed, it had limited coverage and did not include custody cells. Tapes were not downloaded and only recorded in a continuous loop for a maximum of six days, the report continued.
During the grand opening of a new vocational facility at Northward on 1 February, Eric Bush, chief officer in the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs, referenced the report and its findings and outlined what the government’s plans were to remedy the problems.
“The report from the chief inspector that is coming [on Tuesday] is not positive,” Mr. Bush said. “We have to be prepared to be transparent and practical about the solutions and address issues of respect, resettlement, re-entry planning and purposeful activity, based on United Kingdom standards.
“We rated poorly in all areas, which can only be good in that we are all starting on the same field and there is no doubt about where we are,” he added. “However, the inspection in 2014 should not reflect a poor rating as we are resolved to improve in every aspect.”