Money needs to be spent to improve security at Her Majesty’s Prison at Northward, including the perimeter fence through which three convicts escaped last week, the prison’s director has acknowledged.
Prison system director Neil Lavis said some of the fencing at the men’s prison was “not fit for purpose” and needed to be upgraded to make the facility more secure.
He said new fencing, better lighting and closed-circuit television coverage, as well as improved intelligence gathering and reporting within the prison, were priorities.
Mr. Lavis took responsibility for the escape last week of prisoners Steve Manderson, 44, serving life for murder; his son Marcus Manderson, 25, who was beginning a 10-year stretch for possession of an unlicensed firearm; and Chadwick Dale, 22, who stabbed a woman with a screwdriver during a beach robbery.
The hunt for the three men continued this weekend as police urged Grand Cayman residents to check boats and outbuildings for any sign of the escaped prisoners. They had not been caught by press time Sunday.
Mr. Lavis, who described the day that followed Wednesday evening’s escape as the worst of his career, admitted, “we let the public down”.
He said prison authorities were doing everything in their power, along with police, to catch the three men and try to regain public trust.
The 30-year veteran of the UK prison system, who has been in the job in Grand Cayman for just six weeks, said no prisoner had ever escaped on his watch until last week.
He said the incident would hamper plans to introduce more community engagement, possibly including work-release programmes, for low-risk prisoners.
“I have come here with big plans to move the prison forward,” he said. “This is a big setback.”
“I accept the fact that our primary work is to protect the public and keep prisoners secure and we haven’t done that,” he added. “There are factors that make that far more difficult here, with the physical state of some of the buildings. There is a recognition from above that there needs to be some capital and if that becomes available I will use it to make the prison safer.
“There are things we could do to improve perimeter security, improve internal fencing, enhance building security, use CCTV to cover a wider area, add better lighting …”
A slew of security flaws were highlighted in an inspection report in January, which warned that upgrades were needed just to meet category C standards – the third highest of four security classifications for inmates in the prison system.
Commenting on Northward as well as the women’s Fairbanks facility, the report stated, “The physical structure and perimeter at both prisons were poor and not sufficiently secure.”
It recommended, “The external perimeter, fencing and cellular accommodation of both Northward and Fairbanks should be brought up to category C standard and more secure inner compounds introduced to hold higher risk prisoners.”
Immediately after that report was released, Eric Bush, the chief officer in the home affairs department, said government was researching all options, including the possibility of building a new $20 million facility that would comply with UK standards.
Mr. Bush was unavailable for comment on Friday and the new government has yet to outline its plans for the prison.
Mr. Lavis said, “There is an acknowledgement that we need to do something. The people above me have been very supportive. These are old buildings, some of the fencing is not fit for purpose and something needs to be done about that … The inside fencing is very poor. This is nothing new, it has been highlighted now because someone has taken the opportunity and escaped.”
The three prisoners broke out of a secure recreation area before cutting through two fences and escaping.
Steve Manderson, who has escaped on five previous occasions, was classified as a category C prisoner, making him officially the lowest risk of the three escapees.
Marcus Manderson and Chadwick Dale were classed as category B prisoners.
Mr. Lavis said Mr. Manderson’s most recent escape, before last week, was almost a decade ago.
“For the last 10 years the guy has not caused any problems,” Mr. Lavis said. “Over that length of time everybody goes down in security categories. Even category A offenders are moved down after a period of time.”
Movement of inmates within the prison is being restricted and the escape may have implications for the other inmates.
Mr. Lavis said plans to introduce more community engagement, including work-release for low risk prisoners, would likely be put on hold.
He briefed staff at the prison on Friday, urging them to be more vigilant. Later this week, he plans to outline a strategy to staff for the next year, including plans to improve intelligence gathering and reporting within the prison.
He added, “It takes years to change the culture of a prison but there are things we can change quickly, particularly through training.”
In the interim, officers will be redeployed to bolster security around the perimeter of the prison and movement of inmates will be more tightly controlled.