Last week’s Cayman Compass was “full” of good news and bad news.
The good news is that stayover visitor arrivals were up 20 percent in the first three months of this year, adding to a series of celebratory milestones for Cayman Islands hoteliers, restaurateurs and others in the tourism industry.
The bad news is that the “most popular resort” in the Cayman Islands, as measured by current occupancy rate, isn’t The Ritz-Carlton, the Kimpton or the new-look Westin – but Her Majesty’s Prison at Northward.
In March, the Compass reported that Northward was filled to capacity. Since then, the situation has worsened. As the Compass reported on Friday, in recent weeks, no fewer than four and as many as 10 remand prisoners awaiting court appearances have been shunted off to the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service jail at Fairbanks, leaving only a handful of open cells for additional arrests. (At the “high tide mark,” only two of 12 cells at Fairbanks were vacant, which could have become occupied as the result of a single traffic stop.)
Also last week, Police Commissioner Derek Byrne announced a three-year plan to have his officers cracking down on gang activity and crime. Certainly, we hope their efforts prove successful. But imagine what would happen if our police, prosecutors and courts were operating at an optimum level of efficiency, making arrests, clearing cases and sentencing those convicted of crime in an expeditious manner. Our jail and prisons would not only be full, but there’d be a queue stretching out the door of Northward and down the street, all the way to the courthouse downtown.
To the average Cayman resident, Northward Prison is out of sight, out of mind. That is the prerogative of private, law-abiding citizens living in a representative democracy. Our elected members do not have that luxury. It is their responsibility to make sure that all public facilities – including prisons – meet acceptable standards.
As we have said before, when it comes to budgeting, “every dollar is a decision.” The Compass is not aware of any plans, much less money in the budget, to increase capacity or improve conditions at Northward. Factor in our inadequate courthouse facilities and crumbling police stations, and it is clear that criminal justice has not been a priority for successive iterations of Cayman governments.
The current prison may not be “cruel and unusual” by any measure, but it is unquestionably outdated and undersized for our country’s current and future needs.
The reality is, when it comes to prioritization of capital projects that have no guaranteed revenue stream attached (i.e. “prisons vs. ports”), our government is short on available cash. The bulk of the $800 million annual budget is already allocated to the salaries and generous benefits packages of the 6,000-strong army of civil servants and others on the public payroll.
Little is left for “discretionary spending,” let alone major capital projects.
When people are incarcerated by the state, they become wards of the government. It is government’s responsibility to ensure their access to basic necessities – “three hots and a cot” and “four walls and a roof.”
Failing to fulfill these basic obligations risks drawing unwanted attention from human rights advocates and unwelcome scrutiny from a U.K. government that has recently demonstrated a proclivity for stepping in and managing Cayman’s affairs according to the perceived interests of the U.K.
If lawmakers do not address Cayman’s pressing prison issues, they might as well erect a flashing neon sign on the perimeter fence of Northward, reading: “Prison full; lawsuits welcome.”