New prisoner release law takes effect

A new system governing prison sentences in the Cayman Islands comes into effect Monday, replacing the former sentencing and parole guidelines. The changes were expected to take effect earlier this month, but were pushed back two weeks until Feb. 15.

The Conditional Release Law, passed unanimously in October 2014, introduces a system that sets general guidelines for the release of all prisoners on license conditions. It applies to all inmates, including juveniles, and to those already serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

In criminal cases, the sentencing guidelines – called tariffs – are largely left to the court’s discretion. The only exception stated in the law is for murder offenses, which require a sentence of 30 years prior to any consideration of release on license. Even then, in cases where there are aggravated or extenuating circumstances surrounding the killing, the prison term can be set higher or lower by a judge.

All other criminal offenses that carry more than a one-year sentence require the offender, under the Conditional Release Law, to serve at least 60 percent of that sentence in prison. If the prisoner is deemed to no longer be a threat to the community, he or she will serve the remainder of the sentence under supervised release. Sentences of a year or less require release after 60 percent of the jail term is served, barring exceptional circumstances.

In order to put the provisions of the law into full effect, a nine-person Conditional Release Board will be appointed, consisting of retired lawyers, retired judges, individuals with experience in law enforcement or mental health services, social services, ministers of religion or “any other interested persons.”