Juvenile girls prison plan at odds with Constitution

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Cayman Islands prisons will not meet constitutional requirements that female juvenile prisoners be housed separately from adult female prisoners by November.  

The news was delivered to lawmakers Wednesday by Home Affairs Ministry Chief Officer Eric Bush, who was questioned by North Side representative Ezzard Miller regarding the status of the juvenile justice center, which is only partially built in the Fairbanks area of George Town.  

Mr. Bush told the assembly there are no immediate plans or funds to continue the project. In July, the Caymanian Compass reported that new Prisons Director Neil Lavis had questioned the need to build the juvenile center.  

As of Wednesday, Mr. Bush said one juvenile male prisoner was housed at Her Majesty’s Prison Northward. There were no female juvenile prisoners at Her Majesty’s Prison at Fairbanks, he said.  

“Government has allocated some funds in the [current] temporary budget to allow for works at Northward prison [to accommodate male juvenile prisoners separately from adults],” Mr. Bush said. “There are no plans … for separation of juvenile females from adult female prisoners.”  

The Cayman Islands 2009 Constitution Order’s Bill of Rights, Section 6, requires not only that juvenile and adult prisoners be housed separately, but also that remand prisoners be kept apart from convicted inmates.  

East End representative Arden McLean said Wednesday that during the previous People’s Progressive Movement government, ministers were told that simply keeping juveniles locked up in a separate building on the Northward property would not meet legal requirements. He asked what had changed between then and now.  

“It was decided [at the time] that we were not going to house children at Northward prison because of the stigma that it brings,” Mr. McLean said, asking if the juvenile prisoner facility now planned within the Northward compound might be built somewhere else.  

Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell responded, “What we looked for was a temporary solution … which the chief officer [referring to Mr. Bush] has found up to this point. In the short term, this was the best solution we could come up with.”  

In a July interview, Mr. Lavis said the solution for male juvenile prisoners suggested by government worked for him.  

“Ideally, they need to be in a separate location, but … I can ensure [male juvenile prisoner] are kept separate from the general population,” Mr. Lavis said. “If I can make an area here where I have a separate entrance, they’re exercised separately and kept separately, that will satisfy [human rights requirements].”  

Of 193 male and female prisoners in Northward and Fairbanks in late July, Mr. Lavis said he did not have one juvenile prisoner among them.  

“With such small numbers, it would be wrong of me to build a nice, glowing 12-bed unit, which would sit there with nobody in it or one or two people in it,” he said. “Is that the best use of public money?”  

Mr. Miller noted that some $4.5 million had been budgeted initially for the juvenile justice center. However, that funding, earmarked over the last three government budget years, was withdrawn from the spending plans.  

Mr. Bush said about $1.1 million had been spent, mostly on design and the laying of a foundation for the new facility. The original budget for the juvenile justice center was around $10 million to $12 million in construction costs.  

“If what we’re doing now is compliant with the Constitution, why are we spending $1.1 million on a foundation we don’t need?” Mr. Miller asked.  

“That sounds like a lot of money for that kind of a facility. When we reach for these, in my view, elaborate solutions to these problems, we wind up with nothing and the people suffer.” 

Mr. Bush said he couldn’t answer why the money was spent, since the juvenile center was an initiative of the previous government under the Ministry of Community Affairs, for which he had no responsibility.  

Community Affairs Ministry Chief Officer Dorine Whittaker told the assembly that the previous United Democratic Party government looked at numbers from the courts that indicated some 30 male juvenile prisoners and perhaps five to 10 female juvenile prisoners would have been eligible for incarceration in the justice center. Mr. Bush could not independently confirm such figures.  

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The site of the once-planned juvenile rehabilitation center in George Town. – Photo: Jewel Levy
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