The Cayman Islands government has written off nearly $700,000 spent on the partial construction of a juvenile justice center proposed under the former United Democratic Party government administration.
The write-off was required in government financial statements reviewed by the auditor general’s office because government has identified “no alternative use” for the structure’s foundation.
The foundation for the juvenile justice center, which was to be called the Cayman Islands Youth Centre remains today in a wooded area of Fairbanks in George Town district, near the women’s prison.
Home Affairs Ministry Chief Officer Eric Bush said Thursday that he was aware of no current plans by government to transfer or redevelop the property. Mr. Bush said the write-off was largely a cleanup exercise and that the decision not to continue with the project was made years ago.
“The decision was certainly made before the [May 2013] general election,” he said.
The project, once planned as a 12-bed specialist facility for housing juvenile prisoners, was abandoned in early 2013, during the interim People’s National Alliance’s short term as the government, due to funding constraints. Its cancellation was confirmed when prisons director Neil Lavis declared in mid-2013 that he did not need it.
“With such small numbers [of juvenile prisoners], it would be wrong of me to build a nice, glowing 12-bed unit, which would sit there with nobody in it or one or two people in it,” Mr. Lavis said in July 2013. “Is that the best use of public money?”
Former United Democratic Party Community Affairs Minister Mike Adam was forced to remove all funding for the center from government’s 2012/13 budget because of financial constraints. Government’s initial budget for the project during the 2011/12 fiscal year began at $3 million, but was reduced by $1.7 million to help government pay for other projects.
In addition to the construction and design costs for the center, which now consists of a foundation with rebar pipes sticking out of it exposed to the weather, there were some travel costs associated with the project as well. Mr. Adam went to Missouri in November 2010 to study that state’s youth rehabilitation project with several other government representatives at a cost of $11,583. The Missouri program was used as the foundation for the one in Cayman, as envisioned by Mr. Adam’s ministry. Planning permission for the new 21,000-square-foot remand center was granted in August 2011. At the time, the estimated construction cost was $8 million. The project broke ground in March 2012.
When the Progressives-led administration took over in 2013, a constitutional mandate for the separation of juvenile and adult prisoners was looming. The section of the constitution’s bill of rights that dealt with prisoner treatment also required the separation of remand prisoners (those charged with a crime) from those already convicted.
Mr. Lavis stated at the time that he believed underage prisoners could be kept apart from adults on the Northward compound with minimal costs in an arrangement that would satisfy human rights requirements.
Mr. Lavis, who took over the Cayman Islands prisons system in June 2013, said he “knew nothing” of the earlier project for the proposed juvenile justice center and had not been briefed on it by July 2013.