Work-release scheme aims to solve ‘revolving door’ syndrome
A plan to cut in half re-offending rates in the Cayman Islands could see serving inmates going out to work prior to their release.
New prison boss Neil Lavis aims to introduce, before Christmas, the first phase of a plan to end an alarming “revolving door” culture that sees roughly seven out of 10 prisoners back before the courts following their release.
Finding work and housing, as well as equipping inmates with basic life skills before they are released, is seen as key to stopping them from falling back into a life of crime.
The first step, Mr. Lavis said, was for low-risk prisoners to be put to work on community projects, like clearing litter at parks and beaches.
The next phase will involve working with employers to find job placements for inmates coming to the end of their sentences. He said this would give the prisoners a chance to prove themselves to would-be employers before being released.
The work-release program will be the most visible aspect of a far broader approach designed to give prisoners who want to change the tools to become productive citizens.
The entire prison population is in the midst of an individual assessment process designed to establish which intervention programs are required.
Mr. Lavis said reducing “risk factors” like drug addiction, illiteracy, alcohol abuse and ill-health was central to giving inmates the best chance of staying on the right side of the law once they are released. Ultimately, he would like to set up a “resettlement unit” at Northward prison, which would serve as a kind of halfway house, where released prisoners could live and receive help with basic life requirements, such as finding work, a place to live and setting up a bank account.
He accepts that funding is not available at the moment for that kind of facility, but believes the same principles can be used to help produce resettlement plans for prisoners who are about to be released.
“I would like to get to the point where we are working with people up to two years before their release, so we start building those links, making sure they have a plan, a job to go to, and somewhere to live.
“If we don’t do anything, the majority will just go back to what is familiar. If you give them opportunities, they have a chance to change, I have seen it in action,” he said.
Part of Mr. Lavis’s remit as director of the Cayman Islands prison system was to address a slew of issues outlined in a damning report issued by United Kingdom prison inspectors.
A prison break, which saw three inmates escape, including one – Marcus Manderson – who is still on the run, put the public focus firmly on one of those issues – security.
The report criticized almost every aspect of the prison’s operation, including programs for inmates.
It warned, “The prisons lacked a strategy to support resettlement. Work with partner agencies on the islands was uncoordinated and there was no assessment of need across the prison. The effective planning of sentences was optional and few prisoners knew who to turn to for basic resettlement advice and support.”
Mr. Lavis said he believes that can be changed, without compromising the safety of the public. He accepted there was some risk involved, but said the “vast majority” of inmates would be grateful for an opportunity. He said the approach of locking prisoners away and forgetting about them was not working.
“Most of them are going to be released at some point. If you’ve got them a job, if you’ve got them education, you’ve got them off drugs and they have got somewhere to live, they have got a much better chance of not re-offending.
“If we try to help them, we are all going to be safer. I can understand people saying they don’t deserve that. The alternative is to carry on doing what we are doing and see how that works out for us.”
Mr. Lavis said he understood the reluctance of employers to take a chance on an ex-inmate. But he hopes a structured work-release program will give them an opportunity to take prisoners on a trial basis.
“The hope would be that during that period, they would establish some trust and the employer can then make a decision to hire them on their release.”
He said the existing focus is on staff restructuring and prisoner assessment with community work likely to begin at the turn of the year.
“I want people to see prisoners out there, clearing beaches, paying back the community. Once we get them doing that we can look to work with employers to get them a job placement,” he said.