Price tag may kill juvy justice centre

The Framework for Fiscal Responsibility agreed between the Cayman Islands and United Kingdom governments will likely delay or even stop the completion of a new juvenile justice centre in George Town.  

November 2013 is the date set in the Cayman Islands Constitution Order [2009] for the official separation of all adult and juvenile offenders [defined in Cayman as those 16 and younger] in public lock-up facilities.  

Community Affairs Minister Dwayne Seymour announced in February that, since it appeared the project would cost more than $10 million, it would require UK permission to proceed under the framework’s terms. Governor Duncan Taylor also asked that the cost estimate for the project be justified, Mr. Seymour said.  

“All angles are being evaluated. If necessary, changes need to be made to ensure that there is value for money and that the expense of this project can be toned down,” he said during a February press briefing.  

Mr. Seymour also sought a legal opinion from the attorney general’s office on the ramifications of the youth justice centre not being completed by 6 November this year – the deadline set for the segregation of prisoners under the constitution. 

As of Tuesday, Mr. Seymour said there was no funding available in the government budget for the centre and admitted that the project may have to be scrapped. He said governor Duncan Taylor had particular concern about the recurring costs of the new centre. 

Some juvenile remand prisoners are housed at Northward, the adult male prison. Other juveniles are held at the Eagle House detention centre, which is sometimes used to house the spill-over from Northward.  

The new site for the youth remand centre is near the Fairbanks women’s prison, in a wooded area south of Fern Circle and west of Fairview Road in the George Town district.  

A report by the UK’s Prisons Inspectorate released recently found that juvenile prisoners being housed with the adult population at Northward were at “critical risk” of being recruited into local gangs or even being sexually assaulted by older prisoners.  

Planning permission for the new 21,000-square-foot remand centre was granted in August 2011, which at the time had an estimated construction cost of $8 million. The project broke ground in March 2012.  

However, just before the shovels hit the ground, the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee agreed to reduce the 2011/12 budget for the facility by some $1.7 million. According to financial records released by the government, 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.  

Former Community Affairs Minister Mike Adam maintained during his government’s administration that simply building a new prison where juvenile offenders would be “warehoused” was not an option. He said government officials spent considerable time studying details of Missouri’s juvenile offender programme, which has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the US, 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. 

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