Inmates may work outside jail

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


  1. We look like we may finally get someone here with innovative ideas. We already have GPS monitoring capabilities and could use this same system to monitor inmates on work assignments. In the US, there are work crews who clean up the road sides of garbage and debris. Drive down any road in Cayman and see the amount of garbage and litter discarded along the way. We are promoting ourselves as a top class tourist destination! Need to keep the place cleaner then. It would also teach people who have never held real jobs how to go to work. Instead of paying people to sit around and idle, their time could be put to productive use. To see the waste of produce on the prison farm makes a person want to cry!It’s time to sublet small farms from this vast acreage to local farmers. It would create jobs, return salaries and would put fresh produce on the market, all contributing to the local economy! Welcome Mr. Lavis! New people, new ideas! Let see how we can support this man with his plans. There are children whose fathers and mothers are incarcerated, who are being assisted by Social Services. Maybe, just maybe,they can now learn to be productive citizens. Mr. Lavis , please don’t be discouraged by the nay-sayers! We need people with new, workable ideas that can get things done.

  2. I support the program of the new Prison Boss allowing prisoners to work outside doing cleaning up of beaches roads and around government buildings. It is good once it is managed properly. Many years ago this used to take place, where by prisoners were allowed to clean up the roadside, prep for District Heritage days and other things, but I have to truthfully say in instances the supervision by the Prison Officers was kind of slack where prisoners were given rum and other favors from the public.
    I am definitely in support of this, but I would suggest that special, no nonsense officers would be selected to operate this program.
    Unfortunately we had an incident where a young lady was killed on one of these programs, and we would ask ourselves who was to blame. Was it the prisoner or the Officers in charge. We be the judge.
    I support the prisoners doing farming also because they can grow and sell their own produce. Planting trees and reaping the fruits are a good challenge to them and also good for calmness to the soul. It is also good for the prisoners to have this opportunity outside of the prison walls to see how the island is improving, new buildings, cars, businesses, and hopefully will give them a feeling of hope and belonging instead of one of lost and despair.

  3. The farm could be a low security remote work area like boot camp for low risk prisoners, and a facility to fill the gap for alternative sentencing. Should not be that expensive to run some fence one or two towers, and a few quanta huts. Prisoners scheduled for release could also transition through there, like a half-way house.

  4. I have been saying this for a long time and I’m glad to see someone in charge on the same page. Why should an already cash strapped government pay to have the beaches and streets cleaned while the folks in lockup sit on their butts. I am sure there are a lot of them that would rather be picking up trash off the beaches and street early in the morning instead of sitting in a cell day in and day out. It will also give some young kids something to look at to discourage them from getting in trouble. However McFields idea of giving prisoners their own plot of land to farm that they could lease when they get out is ridiculous, all that does is make prison profitable for the inmates.

    Northward might also be a good place to start a recycling program, There’s plenty of things the inmates can do instead of just sitting there. Maybe some of them can kind work off some of their time with good behavior and hard work..

  5. Any one remember the young lady who got murdered by a prisoner working outside the prison. Miss Shurn I think her name was.

    Before this programme begins again, a whole lot of security details should be looked into.

    I am all for rehab for prisoners but repeat offenders of serious crimes against society should NOT be put back in society in any capacity, certainly if prison has not proven to be a deterrent.

    Some of these people cannot be rehabilitated..look at the rapist who was out for all but a week and raped two women. He was known to say that as soon as he got out of prison he was going to rape as many B*hes as he could. Yet he was released!

    Murderers who were given life can be released and offenders serving time can be in contact with the general populous, sounds like a disaster in the making.

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