The Cayman Islands government denies it created a conflict of interest in hiring the wife of interim prisons boss Steven Barrett to help train officers within the prisons service.

Fiona Barrett, a 20-year veteran of the U.K. corrections service, was hired May 21 on a temporary, three-month contract to assist the Ministry of Home Affairs in professionalizing its prison officer ranks.

Typically, the Cayman Islands government service does not hire husband and wife teams to work in the same department, although civil service managers point out there is no written policy to prevent that.

“There is a foundational principle to conduct human resources matters in a manner which avoids conflicts of interest, including nepotism,” a ministry response to Cayman Compass questions about the matter sent Sunday read. “Fortunately, there is no conflict of interest as Ms. Barrett is employed by the ministry and therefore works for and reports to the ministry and not the [prisons] department.”

The description of Ms. Barrett’s employment and background was provided by the ministry last week: “The Ministry of Home Affairs took the decision to address training in Her Majesty’s Cayman Islands Prison Service, a field in which Ms. Barrett is a highly qualified expert. The employment agreement was signed following a thorough process of evaluation to ensure the best decision going forward.

“Ms. Barrett possesses a lengthy background in corrections, with more than 20 years of experience in the industry. She has held several senior positions at different correctional institutions including: Assistant Director, Head of Performance and Training Standards Manager.”

The recent hiring issue was raised to the Compass by government staff after allegations of favoritism were leveled against former prisons chief Neil Lavis. The government hired Mr. Lavis’s close family friend, Nina White, to work within the prison service as a manager during his tenure. A group of senior prisons officers took a complaint to the Gender Affairs Tribunal over the hire and won their case.

The government’s Internal Audit Service is still reviewing that matter.

Mr. Barrett started as interim prisons director on Feb. 21 this year following Mr. Lavis’s departure. He has said he intends to apply for the full-time prisons director job when it is advertised.

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