The Cayman Compass published a discussion between Premier Alden McLaughlin and George Town MLA Winston Connolly on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016. Within this article the two esteemed gentlemen debated subjects such as the Cayman Islands Prison System, the Work Placement Scheme, the reoffending rate and the Prison Service Vocational Training Program. I feel my observations and experience on these topics may shed a unique light on the subjects, as I have been incarcerated at HMP Northward for the last 16 months.
My first comment is in regards to the issue of vocational training for inmates. It is my opinion that the government needs to put more emphasis on inmates developing trade skills. The government needs to ensure that every inmate without a marketable skill or trade serving a sentence at Her Majesty’s Prisons is bound to enroll and complete a certification of the Multi-Skills Trade Course before they can be eligible for release under the Conditional Release law (which recently came into effect).
The reality is that the Cayman Islands has a need for more practical tradespeople. The percentage of Caymanians employed in the trades has historically been low, with expatriate work permit holders filling these positions. The Cayman Islands Government could produce certified skilled tradesmen through the Multi-Skills Trade Course with the help of the National Workforce Development Agency (NWDA). The NWDA has historically worked closely with inmates to help them to find jobs after release from prison.
Recidivism (re-offending) is a disease of society. It can deteriorate your life and rob you of your future, family, liberty and accomplishments. It is the government’s obligation to find a cure for this disease. My experiences have led me to believe that the cure is for the government to focus directly on reliable prison facilities so that inmates can become more skillful and mentally rehabilitated. The benefit for our developing country would be the rate of crime and recidivism would greatly decrease.
Mr. McLaughlin said that over the last three years the prison recorded 16 percent of released offenders returning. I personally believe the root cause is prisoners released with a lack of marketable skills. The majority of the time in Cayman, there is a huge amount of residential, commercial and industrial development occurring, with various different available fields of employment for the skilled worker. A Caymanian convict with the qualifying skills should be able to fill these positions but for the stigma of being a convicted criminal. The newly proposed suggestion by government to wipe clean ex-convicts’ police clearance certificates would be a wise move. It would ensure the hiring of those Caymanians who have worked so hard to better themselves and rejoin society as productive members.
I strongly believe in the non-discrimination section (16) of the Cayman Islands Constitution order 2009: “No one should be treated in any discriminated manner.” I also strongly believe in equal rights and justice. Society tends to always discriminate against anyone with the label of “ex-convict.” Wiping clear ex-convicts’ police records would go a long way toward reducing discrimination and reducing recidivism in our country.
Mr. McLaughlin said that the reason the Prison Vocational Training Program was operating “sporadically” over the last few years was lack of staff and a focus that has to be “safety and security.” I would say to Mr. McLaughlin that the government has an obligation to the people of Cayman to make sure the Prison Rules (1999) revision is operating effectively and in a consistent manner. In particular I would draw his attention to the Prison Rules regarding education:
- (Section 1) Every Prisoner shall be encouraged to participate in the educational facilities provided
- (Section 2) Special attention shall be paid to the needs of the illiterate prisoner
- (Section 3) Reasonable facilities shall be provided for those prisoners who wish to improve their education by correspondence course or private study, or to practice handicraft in their leisure time.
It is my belief that released prisoners reoffend because they are unskilled and therefore unemployable. Such a person is unable to rejoin society as a productive member and will quickly return to their life of crime (16 percent in three years). Government has the obligation and mandate to correct this ill of society. This can be accomplished by:
- Government providing sufficient educational facilities to the prisons;
- Government requiring unskilled inmates to complete a tradesman course before early release;
- Removing past convictions from ex-convicts’ police records;
- Government assistance with job placement after prisoner release.
If all or some of these matters can be addressed and put into place, the Cayman Islands would enjoy reduced rates of crime and recidivism.