Editorial for July 19: Northward inmates: An opportunity to contribute

As we seem to be on the prisoner rehabilitation theme this week at the Caymanian Compass, we’d like to support publicly new prisons director Neil Lavis’s plan to put convicts to work in the community.

There are approximately 180 men locked up in Her Majesty’s Prison at Northward. Some of them are obviously going to be considered too high risk to go outside the prison’s confines. However, several others are classified as category “D” or low-risk prisoners.

It is not so outlandish to assume that most, if not all of these men, would relish the chance to go elsewhere than the Northward prison grounds once or twice a week. Some might be glad for a chance to walk along the beach while cleaning up stray pieces of trash or to work on the roadsides keeping our country clean.

In fact, the previous government spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring people during the Christmas season to perform roadside clean ups. Surely prisoners who are costing us more than $50,000 per year apiece to maintain could perform the same work and do it more often than a couple of weeks in December.

In addition to clean-ups, prisoners who prove trustworthy might even be allowed to accept paid work assignments or at least work-experience jobs that could assist with their reintegration into the community when their sentences are served. Local businessman Gene Thompson has found some success in using probationers on the Health City Cayman Islands project. We think other companies might see benefits from similar efforts.

Our front page story today makes note of the tragic situation that occurred in March 2009 at the former prison wilderness farm. We all remember the needless and senseless death of 21-year-old Sabrina Schirn at the hands of an inmate who was working on the prison farm.

However, after reviewing the specific facts of that situation, it seems that the negligence of the prison service could be blamed equally for the death of Ms Schirn. According to reports at the time, only one prison officer was on-scene to supervise a number of inmates – some of whom were using machetes to clear out bush land at the farm.

One doesn’t need much imagination to see how this could have gone horribly wrong. Reports from the murder trial of prison inmate Randy Martin revealed all sorts of nefarious activities taking place at or around the wilderness farm, including the growing of ganja.

This is only to state the obvious: If the prison system does start letting inmates out on work programmes, those prisoners must be managed properly.
Everyone would agree that we can’t have a situation where prisoners escape from their work detail and run free through crowds of tourists along Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach. At the same time, an old-fashioned prison “chain gang” trundling along the beach during a clean-up exercise probably wouldn’t enhance our tourism product either, so some type of happy medium should be sought.

If the prison service can manage the programme professionally and correctly, however, we see no reason why these prison inmates can’t help repay their debt to society in a way that is far more productive than sitting around a cell block watching television or playing video games.

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