‘Second Chance’ for prisoners

In an effort to reduce recidivism in the Cayman Islands, the prison service and a local foundation are both working on programs they hope will encourage prisoners not to re-offend.

The Save Our Youth Foundation has launched the “Second Chance” program, which will serve as an advocate for ex-offenders in approaching potential employers, according to its founders. The program aims to create a database of employers who hire ex-offenders.

Former prisoners who secure jobs increase their chances of successful reintegration into society, rather than resorting to a life of crime, program founders say.

“The idea behind Second Chance is that if we can help ex-offenders and soon-to-be-released prisoners find work, we give them an opportunity to turn their lives around and become contributing members of society,” said Iris Stoner, president of the Save our Youth Foundation. “With the involvement of participating companies, we can help remove the stigma of hiring ex-offenders and motivate these individuals to make positive choices going forward.”

Involvement urged

SOY officials urge the public and local businesses to get involved in helping offenders and ex-offenders.

“From time to time, prisoners have been re-offending without addressing their offending behavior. I think it is time now to get the community involved. Cayman Islands is a very small place, and I think we need to be mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers to these prisoners, and by doing that, it will make a big difference,” said Richard Barton, president of the Second Chance program.

“We want decent law-abiding citizens to live by you. To do that,” Mr. Barton said, “we need to start cultivating some healthy habits for these prisoners. We want to improve life for young people. If everyone comes together to help this program work, in the future, we will definitely have a better community.”

To prospective employers, Mr. Barton said, “Give these guys and girls a chance. It is difficult for them to get a job, and a lot of times they end up right back in prison. The prison cannot do it alone. We think if he or she is given that chance, it will make a difference.

“I encourage employers to come to the prison, to discuss any queries, if they want to try to hire any ex-offenders. Get involved with the Second Chance program, and get these offenders back into the community.”

Prison launches scheme 

In the same vein, the Cayman Islands Prison Service has completed a new rehabilitation scheme for prisoners, “Release On Temporary License,” that is due to take effect in April.

According to Neil Lavis, director of the Cayman Islands Prison Service, the scheme aims to develop life skills for prisoners by exposing them to the “real world” prior to their release.

Although the prison currently offers education and vocational training, Mr. Lavis said, in terms of the transition from prison into the work force, “nothing is being done prior to the prisoner’s release, so that needs to change.”

Based on the approach used in the United Kingdom, the local policy has been written to meet the needs of the Cayman Islands, and staff are currently in training.

“It’s about rehabilitation, re-entering into society. This is a way for them to be able to go out on their own. They will work in the day and come back to the prison at night. This is where they can do community work so that when they go out, they get half a chance of breaking the cycle of offending,” said Mr. Lavis.

The prison director said he has seen the program work in the U.K. “You know if you send someone out [of prison] with a job and a house, and someone to link with to deal with their offending behavior, it’s not hard to see that they’ve got a better chance than if you just say, ‘Off you go.’”

House refurbishment

The Cayman Islands Prison Service is currently assisting the Second Chance program by refurbishing the home of inmate Donald Hooker, who is due to be released soon. Some prison staffers volunteered their free time to help give the house, which was in a “deplorable” condition, a facelift, program officials said.

“Some prisoners have nowhere to sleep, and a lot of these ex-prisoners are homeless. That is why a lot of them choose Northward as the better alternative, because at least there, they get food and lodging,” said program coordinator and inmate George Roper.

“Without the staff, forget those prisoners out there. We couldn’t do it,” said Mr. Barton. “I want to say thanks to the staff; they see this program as something they want to be a part of. All the officers are volunteers [and] are using their time off to make a difference in their community.”

Mr. Roper believes in helping troubled youth and hopes he can help to transform lives.

“It’s all about stability. Although we can’t change the mindset of the individuals, we are hoping they will see the need to change. We are trying to transform people’s lives, one at a time.

“Our goal is trying to stop young people from coming to prison in the first place,” he said, “but we realize that the objective has a wider scope. There are so many young people at Northward because of that revolving door where they get released and they are back in a few weeks later.”

Soon-to-be-released inmate Mr. Hooker said he is a repeat offender, who has had substance abuse issues for the past 21 years, but he hopes the Second Chance program will give him an opportunity to turn his life around.

“Poverty and drug abuse causes crime but employment and housing enhances stability,” said Mr. Hooker.

“My hope is to stay clean, and the sky is the limit after that. I’m serious about my recovery. Having proper housing and a job means I can focus on my recovery,” he said.

On the day of his release, he is due to begin work with a local electrical company. He plans to move into a half-way house in West Bay, a sober living facility for recovering addicts and alcoholics, until his house has running water.

Risk Assessment Board

Toward the end of their sentence, prisoners will get the chance to send an application for temporary leave to the Risk Assessment Board.

Mr. Lavis said inmates will be risk assessed to see if they have completed their Offender Behavior Program.

“When they first come in, they are assessed on what’s gone wrong and we work with them on all their risks, and towards the end of their sentence, we see about releasing them on this temporary license scheme,” the prison director explained.

The board will also carry out risk assessments on the prisoners to determine whether they qualify for temporary parole. A prisoner’s eligibility for parole depends on his or her behavior and the seriousness of the crime committed.

“We will decide whether or not they are in a position to go out and do community work. And hopefully at the end of their sentence it will help them to get a job,” Mr. Lavis said.

He believes this scheme is critical for prisoners to gain connections and confidence in the workforce.

“We can send them out on a daily basis, where they can build relationships with potential employers, so that employers know what they are getting into, and the prisoners do also,” he said.” We are able to support them and make sure they can go back out into the community far better people than when they came in.”

Any businesses or organizations interested in assisting can visit www.soyfoundation.com or contact the Cayman Islands Prison directly at 947-3000.

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George Roper, Donald Hooker and two other inmates help refurbish Mr. Hooker’s house. – Photo: Samantha Bonham

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Donald Hooker, right, and his father Robert Russell.

1 COMMENT

  1. Roper you are the greatest!!

    You are and will always be the boss. I pent 4 years and 8 months in Northward Prison and im a witness of all the good work you did for the prisones. You were the only inmate interested in the well being of everyone there including the youth.

    I want to thank you and Mr. Barton for all you have done for me while I was there. Your good advise helped me to be a better person. Tnanks to you I leaned how to stay away from trouble and dedicate my time to to positive things. I am now a free man and will never look back.

    I so hope the Cayman Islands Goverment support you with this life changing program and release you once and for ever from that place. The community need you on the road to help those in need of your good advise, time and dedication. God bless bro!

    Ronny Dilbert #4005

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