Prison overcrowding on Grand Cayman that was made public about two months ago has gotten worse since then, the Cayman Compass can reveal.
At certain times over the past three weeks, between four and 10 remand prisoners from Her Majesty’s Prison, Northward, have been housed at the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service jail in Fairbanks, George Town, because there is no room left to keep them where they are supposed to be housed.
Northward, the adult men’s lockup on Grand Cayman, has a maximum prisoner capacity of 213 inmates.
The police jail has a stated capacity of 24 prisoners – two per each cell at the facility. However, the RCIPS has mandated that only one detained person should be kept in each cell for security reasons, meaning a maximum of 12 prisoners can be kept there at any given time.
Police officials said they have been housing remand prisoners at the Fairbanks detention center for the last year, but in recent weeks the problem has worsened.
“Over the past month, the average number of HMP prisoners has increased to about seven or eight per night,” an RCIPS statement on the issue indicated. “The maximum we have held for them is 10.”
Remand prisoners are those charged with crimes who are being held awaiting trial or the disposition of their matters before the court. They do not include individuals arrested by RCIPS officers on any given day who might also need to be held in detention, but who have not been charged with an offense.
The law typically allows the police to hold an arrested person without charge for 48 hours before they are released. However, remand prisoners can be held longer and if they are occupying cells at the police jail, it means fewer spaces are available for police prisoners.
The numbers fluctuate from day to day. On Wednesday evening, prison officials said there were five remand prisoners being held at the Fairbanks jail. By Friday night, that was expected to drop to three.
However, even the smaller numbers can cause police significant problems.
“On a given weekend, 20-30 people are arrested,” the RCIPS statement read. “Many are bailed; however, there are those high-risk or prolific offenders who are kept in custody. On average, there are about six to eight arrestees on a given weekend kept in custody. Officers do a risk assessment when managing space issues, with a view to taking measures to keep prolific or high risk/violent offenders in custody.”
Both RCIPS and prisons officials acknowledged the situation is not ideal. Interim Prisons Director Steven Barrett said the Prison Service has been well aware of the overcrowding situation at Northward and he said Thursday that plans were being developed to address it.
“I am currently reviewing and pursuing a number of options to help manage the challenges we are experiencing with overcrowding, such as exploring what legislative and operational solutions are possible,” Mr. Barrett said. “This includes seeking engagement with other criminal justice partners in regards to remanded prisoners, as well as thinking through what reconfiguration of the facility could be made to create additional space.
“I assure the public that the situation will not impact the department’s statutory obligations or compromise safety.”
RCIPS Deputy Commissioner Kurt Walton said the police service would continue to support the prisons in working through the overcrowded jails problem.
“It is our common goal to reduce the risks to public safety that a shortage of detention space could create,” Mr. Walton said.
As far as options involving current jail space, properties adjacent to the police jail in the Fairbanks area include the adult women’s prison and the Immigration Detention Centre.
However, the Prison Service has typically declined to house male prisoners in the women’s jail and the Immigration Detention Centre, which typically holds Cuban migrants, is not currently considered a secure jail facility.
Northward’s capacity issues were first brought to the public’s attention during a mid-March court hearing when a defense attorney told the judge that three drug suspects were being held at Fairbanks because there was no room at the adult men’s prison.
The day after that, the number of remand prisoners being held at the Fairbanks jail reduced to just one.
However, a police spokesperson confirmed Thursday that the demand for space at the police jail from the Prison Service has not been totally eliminated since mid-March.
Mr. Barrett put it this way during his first Cayman Islands media interview in March: “We have a situation where the hotel is full. Let’s be very blunt; the facilities built here are not fit for purpose.”
Mr. Barrett said at the time that Cayman’s law enforcement and political leadership needed to include better planning for prison facilities.
“The responsible approach to take would be to say, ‘what do you want your prison service to look like? How are we going to be sure in terms of good government, that the services we’re providing meet the need?’” he said.
“These are discussions that need to be had before any architect puts pen to paper. Otherwise, we’re going to be building annexes onto buildings that weren’t meant for them.”