Baines: Government ‘lucky’ to avoid lawsuits over jail cells

Police officers at the new jail facilities in Fairbanks monitor CCTV feeds from both inside and outside the building. - Photo: Brent Fuller

The Cayman Islands is fortunate to have avoided legal challenges under the territory’s 2009 Constitution Order due to the condition of its former police jail facilities in George Town and West Bay, Police Commissioner David Baines said Wednesday during an opening ceremony for new jail facilities in Fairbanks, George Town.

“We’re lucky we haven’t been sued for constructive torture,” Mr. Baines said, referring to activity tantamount to torture by putting suspects who hadn’t been convicted or even charged, in some cases, in a lockup that had been condemned and which frequently reached temperatures of 110 degrees. “This has moved us from the 18th century cages that we have,” he said.

Senior police commanders gave government officials, prosecutors, human rights advocates and the press a tour of the new modular jail facility, which opened in mid-March, about two years after it was initially scheduled to become available.

“[The opening] has taken far, far longer than we would have liked,” Ministry of Home Affairs Chief Officer Eric Bush said Wednesday.

Mr. Baines said that, as of mid-March, the former jails at the George Town Police Station and the West Bay Police Station would no longer be used and that all prisoner booking procedures would be handled through the new Fairbanks facility.

The acting chairman of the Human Rights Commission, criminal defense attorney Ben Tonner, was on hand Wednesday to review the facilities as well. Mr. Tonner, who has years of experience in meeting with clients in the George Town Police Station cells, said it was crucial that police detainees’ health and welfare was not compromised by their custody. Mr. Tonner also said that male, female and juvenile prisoners must be separated at all times and that prison officers must be trained properly to deal with those detainees.

“[This facility] shows how the government is honoring its human rights obligations,” he said.

RCIPS officers pointed out several areas where the new jail facility is both more secure and more comfortable than the old George Town Police Station lock up.

Airlock doors operate in the front and sides of the building where prisoners might seek to escape. The doors can only be opened by an officer stationed at the booking desk. A cell block with six cells is air conditioned, each with a toilet facility and a bunk bed.

Prisoners are brought in through a side door which is surrounded by secure fencing.

Interview rooms for suspects are also available with audio recording devices in each and a video recording device available.

One cell is equipped with 24-7 closed-circuit camera monitoring which can be used to monitor particularly violent or dangerous prisoners, and also for mentally ill individuals who are taken into custody who may be a danger to themselves, police said. It is possible for the new jail facility to temporarily house mental health patients safely and humanely, officers noted.

The police jails at the downtown station were described in a United Kingdom inspector’s report from 2013 as “barely fit for human habitation,” but they were still being used as of early March 2016 to hold people who are arrested, prior to their release or detention in Northward prison.

The new modular cells, which cost government US$2.1 million and can house up to 24 inmates, were constructed in Chillicothe, Illinois, shipped to Cayman and moved into place near Fairbanks Prison in mid-April 2014.*

Officials with the government Ministry of Home Affairs said at the time that they expected the units to be opened within six weeks – the beginning of June 2014 – but that did not happen. The delay was largely due to stalled planning inspections and outfit of the facilities, ministry officials said.

The new cells are required, in part, to bring Cayman’s prisoner detention facilities in line with human rights legislation.

***Editor’s Note: This story has been amended from the original.***

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  1. Mr. Baines should, by now, understand the culture of fear and intimidation that rules Caymanian society.

    He’s been here long enough and has, himself, become a victim of it, to some degree.

    There are no black-and-white laws that defines, determines or punishes the perpetrators of this culture.

    They are who they are…and exist…that is the way things are.

    Mr. Baines can take credit for his efforts to defeat this culture…as he’s forced to walk away.

    Those of us who stand strong and will not be intimidated or made fearful can take courage from his example.

  2. We knew and Mr Baines knew about dirty unmaintained Cells long before now.
    I do not think it is a good thing to bringing that up now when it should have been and could have been dealt with years ago.