New prisons boss ready for challenge

The Cayman Islands’ new director of prisons says he is excited to begin the challenge of transforming the troubled institution when he arrives in the territory later this week. 

Neil Lavis, a 30-year-veteran of the UK prison system, has been given the job of turning Northward prison around after a damning report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons condemned it as “shambolic” and “barely fit for human habitation”. 

He said he was not expecting an easy task, but was well prepared for the challenge and had the experience to get the job done. 

“There are no quick fixes. It is about changing the ethos of the establishment. I’ll be here for the long haul and I’m looking forward to it,” he told the Caymanian Compass. 

Mr. Lavis will look to the inspection report as he attempts to put together a strategy for the future of the Cayman Islands prison system, with the focus on ensuring the safety of the public, treating inmates decently and reducing re-offending rates. He said the issues facing the local prison system, which also includes the women’s facility at Fairbanks, were not unique. 

“HMI reports are not something that I am new to. Over my career there has been many. That is one of the things I will be looking at. There was also a security report and I think there have been a few issues with mobile phones and acts of indiscipline within the prison. 

“I’ll be working with others and setting a strategy of how we take the prison forward. The HMI report gives us a good, objective viewpoint of where we are at this point in time.” 

Mr. Lavis comes to Grand Cayman from his previous post as governor of Swansea Prison in Wales. He has worked in several roles at various prisons across the UK, dealing with all types of prisoners from the most serious offenders in high-security conditions to low-risk inmates in open prisons. 

He said protecting the public through a secure prison facility was paramount. But he believes focus also needs to be put on the safety and welfare of prisoners. 

“If you just lock people up and throw away the key you are going to be experiencing high levels of re-offending. If you engage with them properly to reform their behaviour and help them integrate into society you will see better results for everyone.” 

The inspectorate report, published in January, noted that high numbers of inmates arrived at prison with drug and alcohol problems and a further 13 per cent developed a problem while incarcerated. Mr. Lavis said he believes helping inmates with addiction problems is an important part of cutting recidivism rates.  

“If you can help somebody get a job, somewhere to live, if you can get them off substance misuse, you have a far better chance of breaking the cycle of re-offending,” he said. “That’s what I will try to do, that is what I have done in the past.” 

Eric Bush, a chief officer in the new Home Affairs Ministry, which has responsibility for prisons, has said that Mr. Lavis will have a major role to play in a combined effort to improve the state of the local prison system. 

In the wake of the HMI report in January, Mr. Bush acknowledged the problems in the system and vowed to deal with them. 

“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.”  

Former Prisons Director Dwight Scott took early retirement in November last year. 

Mr-Lavis

Mr. Lavis
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