Water scalding incident, ensuing uproar reviewed
Cayman Islands Prisons Director Neil Lavis has confirmed that an internal investigation is being conducted into events at Fairbanks Prison earlier in the month.
According to reports from inside the women’s prison, problems began on May 11, when a woman arrested in connection with machete attacks at two downtown George Town eateries began screaming inside one of the cell blocks.
In attempts to keep her quiet, other prisoners are believed to have heated up water in a microwave in the facility’s common room and tossed the scalding liquid onto her, burning her left hand and forearm.
The 39-year-old woman, who suffers from schizophrenia, was taken to hospital where she was interviewed by police about the incident.
Fairbanks prisoners complained about not being able to rest because of the woman’s constant yelling and also wanted to bring other issues to Mr. Lavis’s attention, but were told that the senior security officer on duty at the prison would have to read those complaints before they were passed on.
Mr. Lavis met with Fairbanks prisoners last Thursday, according to reports received by the Cayman Compass.
“I can confirm that I have been meeting regularly with the prisoners and a couple of complaints were handed to me,” Mr. Lavis said in a statement. “I have commissioned an internal inquiry into events and will take action as a result of that investigation.”
Numerous issues with handling complaints made by prisoners inside Fairbanks and in the men’s prison at Northward were made public following a December 2010 incident in which three teenage female prisoners at Fairbanks were strip-searched by guards.
The search occurred after a letter complaining about the prison officers at Fairbanks was opened and read by one of the guards. A day later, a team of at least nine officers was involved in a search of the prison dorm that ended in a strip search of the three prisoners and the recovery of two cellphones. Cellphones are contraband within the prison.
The Cayman Islands governor at the time said the strip search did not amount to retaliation, but that finding was disputed by Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams, who said the December 2010 incident had an “element of retaliation” in it.
In last week’s incident, Mr. Lavis said the complaints from prisoners were handed directly to him.
“I have no evidence that prisoners’ rights have been violated, and it would be wrong of me to prejudge any investigation,” he said. “Incidents of this nature are not uncommon to me and I am experienced and qualified in conducting full investigations.”
General prison policy, he said, is that prisoner complaints submitted are to be dealt with at the lowest level. Not every prisoner complaint will be brought to the attention of the director.
“For example, if a complaint comes directly to me, I will often have to submit it to a line officer to get the required information,” he said. “However, I regularly walk both prisons and prisoners have open access to me to raise their concerns.”