It is against Cayman Islands law to have a mobile phone inside the walls of Northward and Fairbanks prisons.
Yet, a total of 75 such devices have been recovered from prisoners at the two facilities since the beginning of this year.
According to court testimony in one recent case, the law did not stop Northward inmate Andy Errol Barnes from admittedly “abusing” his domestic partner using a stashed mobile device for a period of five months, beginning in October 2016.
At the time abusive text messages were being sent, prosecutors said Barnes was awaiting trial at Northward for possession of an unlicensed firearm. He was later found guilty of the firearm offense and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Barnes had used just one of 75 mobile phones seized from inmates at Northward and Fairbanks since January, according to data provided to the Cayman Compass by Her Majesty’s Prisons Service. The adult male and female prison facilities combined are averaging just under seven mobile device seizures per month during 2017.
In the past, prisoners at Northward have used smuggled mobile devices to post pictures of themselves on social media, or even arrange for crimes to be committed “on the outside” of the prison facilities.
Prisons Director Neil Lavis has long acknowledged that mobile phone communications from inside Northward, in particular, are a problem and has taken steps in recent months to prevent their use via new technology. Mr. Lavis said this week that he has secured funds from the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office to purchase cellphone jamming equipment.
“This technology should be in place before April 2018,” a statement from the prisons service noted.
Similar attempts to block phone signals at Northward men’s prison were unsuccessful during 2011 and 2012, largely because of signal interference with the devices being inadvertently emitted from a radio tower in the area. However, prisons officials said the equipment now eyed for purchase has been “successfully trialed in other establishments.”
“This technology has been significantly improved since it was originally piloted in the prison and it is anticipated that negative effects like jamming of signals to customers who reside in close proximity to the prison, which were experienced at that time, will no longer be an issue of concern,” the statement noted.
There will still have to be more “old-fashioned” methods employed to keep cellphones out of the prison. Authorities conduct regular security sweeps of the Northward perimeter fence, which remains a favorite spot for individuals who toss phones and other contraband over the wall into the secured compound. Visitors who come to the compound are searched and prisoners who have been released for medical or legal appointments also face routine searches, officials said.
“The prison takes its role in preserving public safety very seriously and the director and his senior team encourage any member of the general public who becomes aware that an inmate has access to a personal mobile phone to report the same so that corrective action can be taken, with the assurance that their identity will be kept confidential,” the prisons service statement noted.
The only inmates who would receive cellphones would be those “lower risk” inmates who are serving the remainder of their sentences on the prisons’ Release on Temporary License program. Certain of those inmates would be given mobile phones as part of the effort to reintegrate them back into society.
When the license prisoners return to their respective compounds, the phones are returned to the prison staff, officials said. Landline phones are used inside the prisons for inmates’ calls to family members, attorneys and the like. Those calls are recorded for security purposes.