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.