A “steady rise” in Cayman’s adult male prison population has led to an overcrowding situation at Northward Prison in Bodden Town, according to prison officials.

The prison population, including all adult male convicted and remand prisoners, stood at 213 last Friday and dipped slightly to 211 as of Tuesday.

“This is higher than normal occupancy,” Prisons Director Neil Lavis said. “In my opinion, the numbers [of prisoners] have been steadily rising for some time with no apparent spikes.”

According to a 2012 report from the prison service, the certified national accommodation at Northward was 179 prisoners.

On Tuesday, prison officials identified their “safest holding capacity” at Northward at 208 prisoners.

Prison information manager Raquel Solomon clarified that, with renovations under way to available cells, the “safe” occupancy rate has increased over the years.

“However, I believe we are currently at our limit with no further cells to occupy,” she said.

Prisons Director Lavis told the Cayman Compass that the average prisoner roll for the government’s 2014/15 budget year was about 188 inmates, including Northward adult men’s prison, Fairbanks women’s prison and juvenile detention facilities.

On Tuesday, that number stood at 224, including the 211 prisoners at Northward and 13 women at the Fairbanks detention facility in George Town. There were no juvenile prisoners in custody as of Tuesday, the prisons boss confirmed.

“Obviously, having higher than capacity numbers of prisoners is not desirable or safe,” Mr. Lavis said. “We have opened a dialogue with partner agencies to try and reduce our population to manageable numbers. However, we are legally bound to secure all persons remanded and sentenced by the judiciary and the size of the population is largely out of our control.”

In addition to the security concerns, operating costs continue to go up with additional prisoners coming in, Mr. Lavis said.

“Every prisoner over our normal capacity increases costs of security and operations (healthcare, catering, utility consumption, supplies etc.),” Mr. Lavis said.

According to the latest data available, from mid-2015, it costs Cayman Islands taxpayers in the neighborhood of $69,000 per year, per prisoner to house, feed and care for inmates.

The Cayman Islands government budgeted to spend approximately $17.2 million on its prison services in the current 2015/16 financial year, not counting outside rehabilitative and supervision expenses. According to figures presented to the Legislative Assembly’s Finance Committee, the budget for prison services – day-to-day operations – was be $10.7 million. The prison budget for “supervision, intervention and support services” totals about $6.6 million.

The budget for prison operations increased by about $1 million during the current 2015/16 year. Mr. Lavis said the main reason for the increase was the hiring of 13 prison officers and other staff.

Some of the increased workload for prison officers revolves around new responsibilities officers have in securing detained Cuban migrants who land illegally on Cayman’s shores from time to time.

Mr. Lavis, who also has oversight responsibility for immigration detention, said a total of 55 Cuban detainees were being kept at the Fairbanks facility, known as the Immigration Detention Centre. Two others, who are serving time for illegal landing in the islands, are now at Northward Prison.

Four other migrants, including a pregnant woman and a juvenile who apparently made a trip with a parent from Cuba earlier this year, are being kept in a hotel, Mr. Lavis said.

At one stage, considerably more than 100 landed migrants had to be kept at various community centers in the less-crowded eastern districts of Grand Cayman, simply because the main detention facility could not keep up with them all.

Cayman is spending more than US$1 million per year housing, feeding and caring for the Cuban migrants, according to recent budget estimates.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now


  1. This is appalling , no more room at northward , and crime on the rise , and the Governor thinks that crime is down .
    Did she say that because she knew that northward was full of them ? Or what ?
    Now that the story is out that there’s no more room at northward , we can expect the criminals to get more brazen.
    Dear Lord help us .

  2. There are a number of aspects to this:
    Firstly, the good news, the RCIPS must be doing something right, despite its many critics……
    However, the failure to adequately plan for the steady rise in prison numbers is firmly at the door of the Government who have a responsibility to fund appropriate facilities. They pass the laws and lay down the sentences expected, the courts deliver the sentences asked then we find there isn’t suitable accommodation for those sentenced.
    In the short term, either early release for non violent / lowest danger of reoffending prisoners and some leniency in sentencing by the courts.
    What might be interesting to know, is how many of these prisoners are foreign nations who might, via appropriate reciprocal arrangements, might be able to serve their sentences in home prisons?

  3. This is a most serious situation for any government to face. The problem is not peculiar only to Cayman but the U.S. has similar problems too. Maybe one of the best approaches to resolve the problem is the examine the nature of each inmate’s crime, length of sentence, time already served, time left to be served, inmate’s behavior during confinement and then decide on a “work-release” program, probation, or community service. I don’t know if these possibilities exist in Cayman.

  4. Mr Daniels makes an interesting and important point. The US imprisons more of its citizens (when looked at as a percentage or “per 1,000” than any other so called western country. As an aside, research into the make up of these populations does suggest there are questions to be asked in relation to race – why are African Americans more likely to be in prison?
    It is also true that in many countries, for non-violent crime, community sentences are more effective in deterring reoffending with the reoffending rates in the UK, for example, far less where the offender is NOT sent to prison but is given ‘punishment’ in the community.
    The other key issue is that Cayman has quite draconian drugs laws which are relatively easy to detect and do attract prison sentences. Perhaps it would be useful to look very closely at WHY there is a drugs problem – treat the cause rather than the symptom.
    Mr Linton speaks with his tongue in his cheek but, no doubt, some ‘eye for an eye’ proponent will cease on it, unfortunately.