The prison is looking to partner with private businesses to help put its under-resourced and under-used vocational training center to better use.
Prisons Director Neil Lavis says staffing issues mean the center, which has workshops for plumbing, air conditioning, woodworking and other trades, is under-used. He wants to bring in private sector partners in a job-training program that will help prisoners get skills and opportunities to work when they are finally released.
As HMP Northward commemorates its 35th anniversary this week, Mr. Lavis, in an interview with the Cayman Compass, said the prison is beginning to embrace more progressive approaches.
Rehabilitation and restorative justice have replaced simple punishment in the ethos of modern prisons and though Mr. Lavis acknowledges resources in this area are thin, he is attempting to introduce some of those ideas in the Cayman Islands.
“We are not well-resourced, but we are trying to do what we can with what we have got,” he said.
A key concern is the inconsistency of training offered to prisoners. Northward has a well-equipped vocational training center, but its trainers, who double as prison guards, can be called away at any time for more immediate tasks, like escorting prisoners to court or patrolling the wings.
Now Mr. Lavis is looking to private companies to provide staff to train prisoners in the workshops.
“The ideal would be for someone to come in and say, for example, ‘I am going to take these six guys and train them in plumbing or brick laying.’ They can train them to the level they need and then consider taking them on when they become eligible for release on temporary license.”
He said the plan is in its early stages and no businesses have been approached directly at this point. A project team has been set up at the prison and is meeting with the National Workforce Development Agency to work out the details.
He said non-prisoners could potentially be invited to use the vocational center as part of the process.
Mr. Lavis said barriers to employment are among the leading causes of re-offending for ex-offenders.
If someone has a skill and a trade, he said, it gives them a purpose. If they have a job and some money, there is less chance of them re-offending and Cayman is a safer place.
For businesses, he said, it would represent a chance to preview prospective employees and train them to the level needed.
“There’s also a public service aspect to it. This is all of our problems. We need to train and employ ex-offenders.”
In a separate initiative, also aimed at helping to reduce reoffending rates, the prison is looking for victims of crime who are prepared to discuss the impact the offenses had on them.
The project, known as the Sycamore Tree Program, encourages prisoners to confront the reality of their crimes.
He said the process could be enlightening for prisoners.
“A lot of the time they don’t see the connection to a victim when they break into a house or steal from someone,” said Mr. Lavis. “When someone stands in front of you and talks about how they have to sleep with the light on after a burglary, it can have a powerful effect.”
Initially the prison service is looking for general victims of crime. Eventually Mr. Lavis hopes to find victims willing to directly confront the specific offender responsible for the crime against them.
He said the process is not designed for the most serious cases, such as rape, where confronting the offenders would be a traumatic experience for victims. But, he said, in cases where property was stolen or privacy invaded, it could be cathartic for victims to get the opportunity to explain to the perpetrator, the impact the crime had on them.
“For the first time this puts the victim at the center of what we are doing. It has been shown in other areas to reduce reoffending. Let’s give it a try.”