Prison boss Neil Lavis is urging business leaders to help end the revolving door syndrome fueling crime in the Cayman Islands.
Currently, seven out of 10 prisoners in Northward Prison have been locked up on at least one previous occasion, and authorities believe repeat offenders are responsible for the bulk of the crime in the territory.
The prison is now looking to partner with businesses to help find jobs for inmates nearing the end of their sentences.
“If someone comes out of prison with nothing, they are much more likely to go back to what they were doing before,” Mr. Lavis said.
“If they go out with some money behind them, a job to go to, somewhere to live, and some training to address some of their issues, they have a far better chance.”
A release under temporary license program has just been introduced for inmates coming to the end of their sentences to get involved in voluntary or paid work.
Mr. Lavis believes if prisoners can establish that they are credible, reliable workers while in custody, more businesses will be willing to take a chance on them once they are released.
Johann Moxam, president of the Cayman Islands Chamber of the Commerce, said the business community is open to the idea.
He met with Mr. Lavis this month and invited him to a question-and-answer session with business owners to give details of the prison’s rehabilitation programs.
“The Chamber understands the importance of working with the prison service to provide information to our members, so that they can decide if they wish to offer positions to reformed prisoners,” Mr. Moxam said.
“Many Chamber members over the years have employed prisoners who they know have been assessed and have met the criteria to participate in work release and re-entry programs.”
Mr. Lavis said low-risk prisoners in the last two years of their sentence would be eligible for work-release programs. He wants to expand the pilot program, which currently has four inmates, to put prisoners to work in the community cleaning beaches and clearing litter. Currently, three inmates are involved in paid work and one in unpaid work.
He said, “We need to start small and build it from there. Having people willing to employ prisoners is a good start.”
He acknowledged there is a risk involved in sending convicted criminals out into the community but said they would all be pre-cleared by police and probation.
“These are people that are about to be released anyway. We can either let them out with nothing, or we can risk-assess them and get them working.”
Mr. Lavis said the recidivism rate in Cayman is 70 percent. He believes the island will be a safer place if prisoners have better prospects on their release and an incentive not to go back to criminal lifestyles.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, speaking at a recent Chamber of Commerce event, suggested businesses should be doing more to hire ex-cons.
Responding to concerns about crime raised by the Chamber, he said, “Unless the businesses represented by those of you in this room are willing to hire those who have been successfully rehabilitated, all of the policies, work and efforts of government and Her Majesty’s Prison Service are for naught.”
Gene Thompson, project director at Health City Cayman Islands, agreed there is more businesses could do, but he said it is more suitable in some sectors than others.
Mr. Thompson waived requirements for police clearance, reference letters and random drug testing for Caymanian employees during the construction of the new hospital in East End.
“The rule was if they showed up and were prepared to follow our site rules and work hard and had the requisite skills for the positions we needed to fill, there were no questions asked and we would hire anyone, regardless of their past,” he said.
He said there had been challenges and managers had to be flexible about court dates and probation hearings.
“We had guys on site that had to report to the police station, some with ankle monitors and some out on bail. This program took a bit of work and commitment and had a slight increase in cost of labor but was very much worth it,” Mr. Thompson said.
He said the same philosophy would be followed in the next phase of construction. Mr. Thompson believes immigration incentives could inspire more employers to do the same, but he said it is important that employers do the right thing for the right reasons.
“This has to be voluntary, but encouraged,” he said. “Many of these folks have tough pasts and require more attention, and this cannot be done by regulating or entitling, but by social responsibly and wanting to make a difference.
“I do feel that if we do not give the folks a second chance what are their options … more crime?”