Horrors revealed in lock-up review
The stunning inadequacy of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service’s prisoner detention facilities has been laid bare in a United Kingdom prisons inspectorate report issued Tuesday.
The local prison service fared badly enough in the review that was ordered by Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor and many of the failings there had already been made public by government officials. However, some horrifying revelations regarding the holding facilities used prior to arrested individuals entering the court system were also contained in the British inspection report.
Many of the issues raised were separate from any structural failings within the jails.
“At the time of the inspection there was a protected witness being held [in a separate area to the main George Town police station custody cells], who had been in isolation for over a month,” the UK report read. “The door to his cell was left open so that he could also use the corridor, but his cell and corridor were dark with no natural light.
“He had no way of telling what time of day it was, had not been outside for several weeks and was clearly depressed.”
The report also noted that prisoners held in police lock up seemed to fare little better than the “protected witness” described above, stating that detainees – who generally have not been convicted of any offence while they are being held in the police cells – were given “little care” by the police service.
“Families were expected to provide clothing, bedding, toiletries and reading materials,” the report stated. “Food was provided by a catering company three times a day; the food we saw was cold and unappetising. Families often brought food in for the detainees.
“We were not assured that custody staff would know what to do if a detainee did not have any family or friends to provide for him or her.”
The UK prisons inspectors found it impossible to determine what had occurred in “adverse incidents” within the police service jails, according to the report. There was “no recording process” for these incidents.
“Three detainees in our survey alleged that they had been abused by police while in their custody, and one that he had been sprayed with mace,” the UK report stated. “No applications of force used in custody were recorded or reviewed, and there were no systems to manage, monitor or ensure accountability.”
If something did happen to a prisoner or detainee, it seemed, according to the report, that they had little recourse to address those issues.
“There was no evidence from our observations or from custody records that detainees’ understanding of their rights was checked, although they were required to sign that they had been informed of them,” UK inspectors found. “In our survey, seven of the 10 detainees interviewed could not recollect being informed of their rights.”
The study also found that immigration detainees were regularly held at the George Town police station for “more than a month” merely awaiting their deportation date.
Complaining about alleged violations within the police cells was found to be difficult by inspectors.
“Detainees were not told how to make a complaint,” the review alleged. “In spite of the serious allegations that detainees made to us, they did not appear to have an understanding of how to make a complaint of any confidence that it would be addressed.”
There was evidence found in reviews at both the George Town and West Bay police stations that police service staff simply didn’t know what to do with prisoners or the proper procedures for their handling and care.
“There were no agreed standards or policies/guidelines against which the quality of police custody could be assessed,” the inspectors noted, summing up their findings. “Not all staff regularly working in custody were trained to work there.
“We met one auxiliary constable in George Town who told us that he had received no formal training and he had resorted to watching clips on YouTube about custody in the USA to learn how to care for detainees.”
In addition, visits to the police lock up by the local Prison Inspection Board were described as perfunctory and inspectors noted there was no dialogue between the police and the board.
That situation was similar with other agencies including the courts administration, immigration or health services, where protocols for formal meetings to discuss relevant issues at the prison were nonexistent.
Both Police Commissioner David Baines and Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs Chief Officer Eric Bush have spoken repeatedly about the need for new and/or improved jail cells for the police service. However, funding for those improvements has simply not been available as Cayman has struggled through budget difficulties in recent years.
Concern regarding the police jails was practically the first public statement made by Commissioner Baines after he took the job in June 2009.
“There was a real issue … about West Bay, actually the station, the size of the community and the demands facing it is another area,” he said following a meeting with Cayman Islands Cabinet members. “We’ve raised with the governor the state of the central (George Town) lock up and detention facilities on [Grand Cayman] which, if we’re going to prefer obligations under human rights legislation, need to be addressed and fairly quickly.”
However, Cayman Islands government representatives confirmed in October that it would take at least another year to make temporary holding cells operated by the police service in George Town and in West Bay human rights compliant. The move will require a scheduled $1 million in this year’s budget and will mean the construction of a new jail facility, likely somewhere in George Town.
Mr. Bush said recently that, going back to 2008, plans for a modern police holding facility were set for the proposed Bodden Town Emergency Centre.
However, in early 2010, plans for the $15 million combined police, fire and medical response station were “delayed indefinitely” due to a lack of available funding.
“We planned to build the new jail at the Bodden Town Emergency Centre, but due to the economy it just couldn’t happen,” Mr. Bush said.