Both Her Majesty’s Prison, Northward and the police detention center in Fairbanks, George Town were overfilled as of Wednesday morning, with Cayman Islands authorities housing more than 250 adult prisoners or arrested suspects in local jails.
The numbers included 221 adult male prisoners at Northward, where the stated capacity of 213 prisoners had been exceeded. Prison officials confirmed they were being forced to “double up” inmates in cells to make room.
Similarly, in the police holding jail in Fairbanks, there were a total of 15 prisoners being held Wednesday. Nine of those prisoners were “on remand” – being held awaiting trial – from Northward and six others had been arrested by police. Usually, police can only hold people they’ve arrested for up to 48 hours prior to release.
The police detention center has 12 high-security cells which can, if necessary, hold a total of 24 prisoners. However, the police service typically does not put two prisoners per cell due to human rights and general safety concerns.
On Wednesday, left without available space, police started “doubling up” the remand prisoners sent over from Northward. The arrested suspects were being kept alone in separate cells.
“Additional staff have been employed at the detention center to ensure safety, and more inter-departmental measures are being considered,” an RCIPS statement on the matter indicated.
At the women’s prison, also in Fairbanks, there were 17 adult prisoners being held, but that facility is not at capacity.
In total, there were 253 prisoners – either arrested suspects, remand prisoners or inmates serving sentences – within the Cayman Islands prisons system. That figure does not include the 13 Cuban migrants being kept at the Immigration Detention Centre awaiting the outcome of asylum appeals or the repatriation process.
However, in the middle of the day Wednesday, a man who was not Cuban was brought to that detention center in handcuffs. It was not clear where that individual had come from, according to sources which spoke to the Cayman Compass. Typically, Cuban migrants would not be handcuffed for any reason unless they had committed a criminal offense.
The dire overcrowding situation was raised in court Tuesday during a hearing for a suspect before Summary Court Magistrate Valdis Foldats.
During consideration of the matter, Mr. Foldats was informed by veteran defense attorney John Furniss that “there’s no room at the inn” – referring to Northward Prison – for his client to go. Mr. Foldats agreed to put the suspect on an electronic monitoring device.
The holding capacity of Northward Prison has been an issue addressed before the courts in several cases so far this year.
The numbers fluctuate from day to day; however, since the beginning of the year, the Prison Service has been forced to send remand prisoners to the police cells for temporary holding due to a lack of space.
Even the smaller numbers of remand prisoners can cause police significant problems.
“On a given weekend, 20-30 people are arrested,” an 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 have 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 said 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.”