Cleaning up local beaches, roadsides and doing other various odd jobs are entirely within the realm of possibility for inmates at Her Majesty’s Prison, Northward, according to Cayman’s new prison system boss.
Thirty-year veteran prison warden Neil Lavis, who arrived from the UK last month, said Tuesday that he would like to get ‘Class D’ prisoners – the least violent category of offenders within Northward – out on the streets in work crews as soon as possible.
“I’d like to have prisoners who are low risk going out into the community every day, doing things like clearing up beaches, clearing up rubbish,” Mr. Lavis said. “They may do that from the probation site now, but we don’t do anything like that and it’s a missed opportunity.”
The previous government spent an estimated $1 million a year on roadside clean-up efforts during the Christmas season in preparation for Cayman’s more popular tourism months. Prisons Director Lavis said he could have a few groups of prisoners doing that year-round for minimal cost.
Some precautions would have to be taken. Mr. Lavis said the prisoners would have to be supervised and transported on vehicles. They would also need to be vetted properly before participating in such a programme.
“Clearly, I don’t want to send somebody to a place where the victim [lives] right around the corner,” he said. “It’s a small island, so you’ve got to have that in mind. But, during the day [some of the prisoners] go out and then it’s something for others to aspire to.”
Mr. Lavis said inmates at his previous post in Swansea, Wales went outside the confines of lock-up on both volunteer and paid assignments. Such work can only help the prisoners integrate back into society, he said.
It’s a position long advocated by former government minister and sociologist Dr. Frank McField, who said this week that he believed it was a mistake in 2009 for local government to close down the prison ‘wilderness farm’.
“All prisoners should not be disadvantaged by the activities of one person,” Mr. McField said.
The closure occurred in the months following the murder of 21-year-old Sabrina Schirn. An inmate, Randy Lebert Martin, who was working at the farm site outside Northward Prison the day Ms Schirn was killed, ended up being charged and convicted of her murder.
The wilderness farm was closed after an independent report, written by local attorney Orren Merren and UK prisons advisor Stephen Fradley, recommended taking that step. The report said leaving the farm open to inmates was simply too risky.
“The farm is too far from (Her Majesty’s Prison) Northward in the event of any incident needing a prompt response,” the report stated. “Moreover, the vast expanse (some 200 acres) with so many areas in which to hide, there are entirely too many opportunities for prisoners to abscond, cultivate illegal crops for use or sale, or worse.”
The report recommended that a work site closer to the prison be used to teach inmates farming skills, and suggested that the wilderness farm land be sold or leased to profit the Cayman Islands prison system.
Mr. McField said off-site work at the wilderness farm was helpful to prison inmates during his government’s term in office. He suggested going as far as giving some prisoners a plot of land to farm on their own.
“Many of the prisoners are idle most of the day and are not willing to attend remedial [reading and writing] classes,” he said. “Once those [Class D] prisoners are released from prison, the men could lease or use the wilderness land for farming.”
With regard to Mr. Lavis’s prisoner outside work proposal, Mr. McField said: “It’s positive. It needs to be actively considered and supported.”
The Northward wilderness farm review did not eschew prisoner outside training programmes. In general, the review found that in-prison and out-of-prison work training programmes should be continued and expanded. Reviewers questioned why more “productive areas” for prisoners’ future employment were not receiving greater focus.
Mr. Lavis said that work is now under way.
“There are plans in place, there is a re-entry team there now,” he said. “The plan is to, and we’re not there yet, on reception pick them up, find out what their needs are and then try and deal with those needs. Until we do that … we can’t really move forward.”
“I’d like to have prisoners who are low risk going out into the community every day, doing things like clearing up beaches, clearing up rubbish.” Neil Lavis, prison warden