A crisis not of his making

Cayman Islands prisons director Neil Lavis has been on the job only six weeks and he is facing the biggest crisis of his career. Three prisoners, including a convicted killer, escaped Wednesday and at the time of writing are still on the run.

It would have been easy for Mr. Lavis to deflect blame and to dodge television crews and newspaper reporters hounding him for explanations. Instead, he apologised to the public, admitting, “we let you down,” and effectively acknowledged, “the buck stops with me”.

In truth, the well-documented problems at Northward prison pre-date his arrival by years. An inspectorate report, released in January, documented a litany of concerns about the shocking state of the prison, including security concerns.

Prison breaks, unfortunately, are not a new phenomenon in Cayman. Steve Manderson has now escaped six times over his 20 years behind bars for the killing of a prison guard.

The immediate priority for police and prison officials is to catch him and his accomplices and bring them to justice. The longer-term challenge is to use whatever means available to upgrade the crumbling facilities at Northward and ensure this never happens again.

Mr. Lavis deserves credit for his willingness to step up and take this one on the chin. It wasn’t his punch to take. He also deserves time and resources to put the system right.

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  1. I remember my first visit to HMP Northward, I had newly arrived on the island from my last post in the UK as a construction manager building a new house block within a live Cat B prison in the UK. It was 1999 or 2000 and we ever installing a new sewage treatment plant at the prison. As I approached the prison I thought there must be some mistake as there was no wall with bird’s beak or in fact sterile area fencing but chain link fencing surrounding the facility like some WW2 prison camp. There were prisoners in the car park with machete cutting the bushes. It so weird after the UK where every tool taken in are logged and then re-accounted upon leaving the place every night. Seven meter sterile areas between inner and outer fences.

    I returned several years later to undertake a structural survey of the facility and laughed to myself how the local name was a hotel as it place was far from any hotel I like to stay in, overcrowding and neglect was common throughout all the house blocks many of them not safe to continue for use due to the composite decking roofs tickling time bombs to collapse just as they did a George Hicks school as few years earlier. So when the UK Prison inspector came and gave the place a bad report that came as no surprise.

    The new governor has her work cut out for her, let’s hope the new government will give her the resources she needs to sort that the prison and give her the funding to build new house blocks, which are safe and secure instead of building which held together with forgotten promises made after every election.