Prisons boss gets new contract

Crowded jails pose challenges

Prisons Director Neil Lavis has been awarded a new three-year contract, keeping him in charge of the local prisons service through mid-2020.

The contract for Mr. Lavis, who came to Cayman in June 2013, was renewed upon its expiry last month, according to Ministry of Home Affairs officials.

“Director Lavis’s contract was renewed by the ministry per the established process,” said the ministry’s Deputy Chief Officer Kathryn Dinspel-Powell, adding that the contract renewal included review by the civil service moratorium committee and Deputy Governor Franz Manderson.

Mr. Lavis’s tenure has become particularly challenging of late, as the prison population has swelled well above 200 at Her Majesty’s Prison, Northward – the main adult male prison.

The veteran U.K. corrections officer has noted a steady, but significant rise in the number of adult male prisoners since last April. At the time, the total prison population, including all adult male convicted and remand prisoners, was 213.

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

The 2016 number was a significant jump from 2012, when Northward held 179 adult male prisoners.

As of Thursday, Northward reported 211 adult males incarcerated. There were 11 female prisoners at Fairbanks prison as of last week.

Mr. Lavis said Fairbanks could serve as a “fallback” for male remand prisoners [those who have not been convicted], if the number gets too high.

Mr. Lavis said Northward’s maximum capacity is 214, but the prisons service has another backup plan if that is exceeded.

“I’ll ring [Police Commissioner Derek Byrne] and say, ‘Hey, if you’ve any overnight remands, please hang on to them,” he said. “I think we’ve had up to three or four in there … the police have been very helpful.”

With a packed prison, tensions inside apparently led to the unusual decision to send two men – Osbourne Douglas and Justin Ramoon – to the U.K. prisons service to serve their decades-long sentences for murder.

Ramoon, 25, was sentenced in December last year to 35 years for the murder of Jason Powery. Ramoon’s brother, Douglas, 30, was sent to the U.K. in June for the same murder.

“[Ramoon’s] removal was authorized by the U.K. and Cayman Islands governments in the interests of national security and public safety for the people of the Cayman Islands,” a government statement released Thursday night noted.

A similar statement was put out following Douglas’s transfer to the U.K.

Cost per prisoner

The Cayman Islands government spent approximately $17 million on its prison services in the last 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 $10.7 million for the fiscal year 2015/16. The prison budget for “supervision, intervention and support services” totaled about $6.6 million.

The most recent figures released by Her Majesty’s Prison Service in Cayman show that $69,000 per year, per prisoner, was being spent to house individuals at Northward.

Compass journalist Spencer Fordin contributed to this story.

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