A new inspection report describes Northward Prison’s segregation unit, in which inmates are placed following infractions, as having “wretched conditions” and called the use of punishments “unregulated and arbitrary.”
Prison records, according to the report, show the cells were in almost continuous use before the inspectors’ visit, but there were no inmates in the unit during the announced inspection.
The report from the United Kingdom’s HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, following up on a highly critical 2012 report, found little change in conditions in the segregation unit. The report states, “The accommodation remained appalling.”
The inspectors write that the punishment system used to send inmates to segregation had little oversight by senior management, and prisoners could be sent into the isolation cells for up to two weeks based on arbitrary decisions by staff.
Prisons director Neil Lavis, who was brought in after the 2012 report to help turn around the troubled prisons, declined to speak with the Cayman Compass about the new report.
Inspectors write that conditions of the segregation facility is “completely unacceptable.” The report continues: “Prisoners were held in segregated conditions for long and indeterminate periods without review and there was no effective reintegration process. The environment was unacceptable; cells were in a poor state of repair, some being dirty and graffiti strewn, with almost no natural light and leaking toilets, and not all cells had running water.”
The report notes that prisoners were held in these cells for around 23 hours a day. Prison records, reviewed during the inspection, showed the time prisoners spend in segregation had been reduced to seven to 14 days depending on behavior. The 2012 inspection notes that at that time prisoners were normally held in segregation for at least 28 days. The segregation cells at Fairbanks women’s prison are in better condition, according to the report, but oversight “was similarly inadequate.”
In the unit, inspectors write, “Some prisoners were subject to additional extreme restrictions on their movement, such as the application of shackles and handcuffs, without proper reason or authority.”
There were no prisoners held in segregation during the inspection, according to the report. But, inspectors write, “The wing diary showed that the high-control cells had been used almost constantly before the inspection.”
Inspectors also found that the high-risk unit, normally reserved for the most serious offenders or people deemed escape risks, was also used as an alternative segregation unit.
The report repeats the inspectors’ recommendation from 2012: “The current use of segregation should be replaced by a regulated, risk-assessed and controlled system of segregation. Cells should be suitably equipped and access to a suitable regime provided. Prisoners should be individually case managed and, where possible, plans made and implemented for reintegration into the main population.”
While visiting Northward and Fairbanks prisons for eight days in January, the inspection team observed the disciplinary process in action. The inspectors write, “The adjudications we observed were relaxed and conducted appropriately but some of the records we saw displayed little evidence of enquiry beyond the ’guilty‘ or ’not guilty‘ plea and we were not assured that quality assurance processes were effective.”
The report notes inmate complaints “about arbitrary decisions and unregulated punishments.” The inspectors write that, beyond inmate anecdotes, “We observed an unregulated, arbitrary punishment issued on the young person’s unit to a young person who was located in a lockdown cell with loss of association for not making his bed; this had not been authorized and there were no recorded reasons for it.”
Prisoners could end up in segregation “without legitimate authority or senior management oversight,” according to the report, and record keeping was called “inadequate.”
Inspectors write, “We saw staff engaging with prisoners and most prisoners seemed to be at ease in their company. However, prisoners repeatedly expressed their frustration at what they saw as the indifference and inaction of staff in meeting their needs, as well as the unaccountable exercise of authority.”