Cayman Islands public prisons facilities will need more available space, both immediately and in the longer term to keep up with current and future demands, local law enforcement officials acknowledged this week.
However, it was not known as of Thursday precisely where space would be found to serve the short-term need to ease prisoner overflows occurring at both the main adult men’s facility at Northward and at the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service jail facility.
By Wednesday of this week, the adult male prison population on Grand Cayman had reached critical mass, with 221 people being housed at Her Majesty’s Prison, Northward in Bodden Town – a facility with a stated maximum capacity of 213.
Since at least March of this year, Northward Prison has been steadily sending remand prisoners – those whose criminal charges before the court have not been resolved – to the RCIPS detention center in Fairbanks, George Town. The police detention center is only meant to house criminal suspects RCIPS officers have arrested, not charged individuals being held in prison awaiting trial.
However, as of Wednesday, there were nine such remand prisoners in the police facility and according to sources that spoke with the Cayman Compass, two more remand prisoners were sent over to the RCIPS lock-up late Wednesday.
Those figures were in addition to the six RCIPS prisoners being kept in police holding cells as of Wednesday.
According to law enforcement sources with knowledge of the situation, as many as eight more male prisoners who are not currently being kept at HMP Northward were expected to face sentencing in the courts this week and there was “nowhere to put them.”
Additionally, while the main adult female prison, also located in Fairbanks, George Town, was not at capacity as of Wednesday, prison officials said it was housing 17 prisoners, just three away from its stated capacity.
In total, there were 253 people – not counting migrants held in the Immigration Detention Centre – being held in local lock-ups on Wednesday.
Forced to deal with a persistent overcrowding situation, both prisons officers and police have dealt with the situation by “doubling up” some prisoners in cells.
The RCIPS does not do that in its jail as a matter of policy, preferring to hold a maximum of 12 prisoners – one in each available cell – for both security and human rights reasons. However, faced with more remand prisoners in addition to arrested suspects, the RCIPS has started putting two remand prisoners per cell. The arrested suspects, who have not been charged with any crime, are kept alone in their cells and typically released after 48 hours.
Head of the Governor’s Office Matthew Forbes said Thursday that all options were being considered in dealing with the prison overcrowding problems, but that no firm solutions had been announced. On the positive side, Mr. Forbes said it was good that police were arresting more criminal suspects, “but you’ve got to have places to put them.”
“There are options being looked at [at] the moment to create additional space,” he said.
There are several options available to Her Majesty’s Prisons Service and it was understood that prisons officials were consulting with legal advisers concerning those on Thursday.
One option could involve placing certain prisoners in the Immigration Detention Centre, which is located next door to the police jail in the Fairbanks area. The low-security facility is staffed by prisons officers, but it has not been considered a secure lock-up. Multiple escapes and escape attempts by Cuban migrants housed there after landing illegally in Cayman led security officials in 2013 to bring in prison officers to provide more security.
The RCIPS no longer uses older prison cells located in the George Town Police Station since the police jail facility was opened in the Fairbanks area in March 2016. A U.K. prisons report completed in 2011 raised serious human rights concerns about using those cells to house anyone.
Former Police Commissioner David Baines commented in March 2016 that Cayman was “lucky to avoid lawsuits” over the use of the old police jail cells.
Northward Prison’s capacity issues were first brought to the public’s attention during a mid-March 2018 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 later confirmed that the demand for space at the police jail from the Prison Service has not been totally eliminated since the time of that court hearing.
Court difficulties persisted this week, with the overcrowding situation raised again 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.