A new inspection report on prisons in the Cayman Islands, while noting improvements, is still highly critical of conditions, policies and procedures at Northward and Fairbanks prisons.
Located on a nondescript side road near Bodden Town, Northward prison spreads out surrounded by concrete walls and layers of concertina wire and fencing. It’s quiet and peaceful outside the walls. The sounds of traffic don’t reach through the thick of trees and swamp.
Inside those walls, according to a new inspection report, almost 200 men and boys serve out their sentences in conditions called “squalid” and under threat of “unregulated and arbitrary” punishment by guards.
While conditions at Northward prison and at Fairbanks women’s prison remain “very poor” in the assessment of inspectors from the United Kingdom, the inspectors noted some improvements in prisoner safety, better leadership for prison staff, and refurbished facilities for young inmates at Northward.
The report from the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, released last week, follows up on a highly critical 2012 report that condemned inmate treatment and living conditions at both prisons. Inspectors noted ganja was easily available in the prisons and found that guards would punish prisoners arbitrarily and with no oversight from senior management.
“Fairbanks resembles a storage facility and was an oppressive environment that provided no stimulation for those held there. Much of Northward was decrepit and squalid,” the inspectors wrote in the new report.
“Many of the current facilities at both Northward and Fairbanks should be demolished and the rest should undergo complete renovation,” inspectors write.
The Cayman Compass reached out to prison officials for comment on the report but they had not responded as of press time Sunday.
The report states both prisons need “replacement or refurbishment.” Aside from the work done in the wing set aside for young offenders, the inspectors note that the “rundown and decrepit” living conditions at Northward had not improved since the 2012 inspection report. “Most cells were dark and cage-like, and communal areas grubby, bare and devoid of equipment,” the report states. Inspectors pointed to the A wing as “particularly squalid.”
The report continues, “The dormitory accommodation was sparse but clean and relatively spacious, although the women were afforded little privacy. The main communal space, called the dayroom, was a large wire cage, [which] contained some soft furnishings.”
Neither prison has air conditioning for inmates, with the exception of recreation rooms and classrooms for young offenders at Northward. Prisoners at both Fairbanks and Northward reported little ventilation inside the facilities.
At Northward, the report states, “Multiple layers of bars at the windows of cells meant that natural light was severely restricted and ventilation poor. Some additional fans had been introduced to the wings but the high temperatures and general lack of ventilation were an ongoing cause for prisoner complaint and an issue raised repeatedly at the prisoner council.”
Inspectors note that both prisons have adequate telephone access, an improvement from the 2012 report.
Health services improve
Prisoner surveys by the inspection team show that most inmates at both facilities “said that access to the nurse and the overall quality of health services had improved.” The Northward health center is currently in a temporary facility and “the whole environment required refurbishment to meet primary care and infection control standards.”
Prisoners with long-term health issues reported improvements in their care, done through the Health Services Authority.
The report notes healthcare at Fairbanks had gotten better since the 2012 inspection “and there was a systematic and female-focused approach.”
Mental healthcare at the prisons has changed since the last report, primarily due to the new Mental Health Law that paved the way to give involuntary treatment to people with severe mental disorders. The report states: “Mental healthcare was available but relatively unsophisticated” for inmates.
The prisons implemented a new case management system for at-risk inmates and those in crisis situations. The report calls the new system “a welcome improvement.” Incidents of self-harm, including suicide, at the prisons are “thankfully low,” according to inspectors.
“Neither prison had experienced any self-inflicted deaths in custody and there had been no incidents of self-harm in the previous six months at either prison. However, the prisons held prisoners with self-harm histories, including attempts to commit suicide,” the report notes.
Inmates are no longer able to buy tobacco products in the prison shop, a change since the last inspection. But the report criticizes the change: “Paradoxically, cigarettes could be handed in by relatives. This was inequitable and could potentially lead to debt and bullying problems.”
Inspectors singled out cooking facilities as an urgent problem. The report states: “The kitchen at Northward was in an appalling state and should be replaced immediately.” Northward’s kitchen also prepares the food for Fairbanks.
“The kitchen environment and standards of cleanliness were extremely poor. A large amount of kitchen equipment was broken and out of action. The kitchen required complete and immediate refurbishment,” the report continued.
The 2012 report also called for the kitchen to be replaced.
In the prisoner surveys, more inmates at Northward reported that the food was good or very good than in the 2012 survey. Women at Fairbanks had a different view on the food, according to the report. “Female prisoners complained of the poor quality of the food they received from Northward,” it states.
The report states that prison officials are actively looking for the means to replace the kitchen.
Some prisoners had access to prepare their own meals. Prisoners in Northward’s F wing have their own kitchen and relatives can bring food in for inmates to prepare on their own. Fairbanks also has a kitchen, but the women there are only allowed to use it on weekends.