Prison inspection report: Police holding cells in poor state

Police detention cells in George Town, described in a new report by inspectors from the United Kingdom as “barely fit for human habitation,” are still in use despite a new police detention facility sitting empty just a couple of miles away near Fairbanks prison. 

U.K. inspectors came to the Cayman Islands in January for a weeklong inspection of the prisons and detention facilities, to follow up on a similar effort in 2012. Inspectors noted improvements with policies and procedures for people in police custody, but the report still criticized the department for jail conditions in George Town and Bodden Town. 

HM Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick, in the introduction to the report, writes, “The cells at George Town police station, which we described in 2012 as ‘barely fit for human habitation,’ had not changed. A new custody suite was almost complete, but its opening had been delayed for seven months and there was still no date set.” 

Police confirmed that the new facility is nearly complete, but is awaiting “a few items for occupation.” 

The report describes the George Town cells as “dark and dirty, and in the form of open cages.” It continues: “Ventilation was poor and the temperature in the cell area was oppressive, with no air conditioning, except in staff areas, although electric fans were used. Cells did not contain litter but there was extensive obscene and gang-related graffiti.” 

Most stays in police jails are limited to 48 hours, according to the report. People in police custody are either bailed, released or sent to one of the prisons within two days. 

Mr. Hardwick noted that the cells at the West Bay police station, heavily criticized in the early report for their condition, have been closed. 

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service has five sites with cells in use: 16 in George Town, one in Bodden Town, two on the Brac and one on Little Cayman. The Marine Unit base in Newlands has two more cells, described in the report as being in the best condition, but those are not in use as there is not enough staff at the base. 

Policies improving 

The report notes that prisoners are assessed on intake and records are kept in a computer system, so records can be available if someone is transferred. It also states that any time officers use force, the incident is recorded and sent to training officers and the professional standards department, a major change since the 2012 inspection. 

Of the detainees interviewed by the inspectors this year, one reported mistreatment. That number is down from four in the 2012 report, including one prisoner who reported being sprayed with pepper spray. The 2012 inspection reported that police kept no records on using force at that time. 

There is no single, formal policy for police custody, the report states. But since the 2012 inspection the department has created what’s called a “guidance document” and there is a policy currently in draft form. The inspectors called the draft “a step forward” but repeated their recommendation from 2012: “There should be specific policies that establish clear standards of care for those detained in police custody.” 

“There was evidence of inconsistency between members of staff. Their approach to even straightforward practical issues, such as whether to give bedding and toiletries to a detainee, differed, which illustrated the need for written operational standards,” the inspectors wrote. In most cases, inmates have to rely on family to bring them bedding and toiletries. 

Coordination with other agencies, such as prisons and the court, the report states, should be written into a policy. “There were good informal links with other agencies, such as the courts administration, immigration and health services, and many issues were addressed through personal contacts. However, there were no formal protocols and agreements.” 

New police cells unused  

A new police detention center near Fairbanks Prison is nearly complete. The modular units were built in the United States and placed on a foundation alongside the prison and migrant detention center in April 2014.  

Government at the time expected the new, modern cells to open within months, but that was more than a year ago. It is unclear when the new cells will be opened. 

The inspection report notes that opening the new jail would greatly improve conditions for detainees: “Although not yet complete, it was clear that it would be much more fit for purpose than the present suites, providing clean, safe and suitable conditions for detainees, with facilities for visits and legal interviews, and separate accommodation for men, women and young people.”