An unspecified number of men being held at Her Majesty’s Prison, Northward will be transferred to the Immigration Detention Centre, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced Tuesday, more than a week after the Cayman Compass revealed the overcrowding situation at local jails had hit the breaking point.
Interim Prisons Director Steven Barrett said “suitably selected” prisoners from Northward would be taken to the immigration center in Fairbanks, George Town after a thorough risk assessment is done.
In addition, Mr. Barrett said some shifting around would be done within Northward, where practical, to ease overcrowding.
“We are aware that the current overcrowding situation is not acceptable or sustainable, and the plans to relieve some of the strain on HMP Northward by using the IDC as an extension of the prison is the most viable short-term option available,” Mr. Barrett explained.
The Immigration Detention Centre houses migrants whose only offense is to have landed in the Cayman Islands illegally. They are usually Cubans and Caymanian authorities have not typically provided the same level of security at the detention center as they do at local prisons because they believe most of the Cuban migrants have no criminal background.
The use of the detention center will open 22 spaces for remand or incarcerated prisoners at Northward, officials said.
Ministry of Immigration Chief Officer Wes Howell said the detention center would be “retrofitted” to provide better security and would maintain “strict separation” of migrants and prison inmates.
“We can relieve the prison overcrowding in the short term, while providing safe and compliant detention facilities for the Department of Immigration detainees,” Mr. Howell said.
Some of the Cuban nationals now being housed at the detention center did not share government’s optimistic view of the situation.
“What kind of government keeps people who want to be free as prisoners, and now, as the last straw, they want to put us in danger by putting delinquents here. How shameful,” said one migrant detainee who spoke to the Cayman Compass on condition of anonymity.
The Compass typically does not use names of migrants at the detention center because those individuals fear they will be retaliated against if they must return to Cuba.
Another detainee said: “Now they are going to put us together with common criminals, which is them saying that we are prisoners too. But if they try to do that, we are going to form a chain to block them from entering until they find a solution to this.”
The government has few options left in terms of where it can place prisoners.
As of June 20, the adult male prison population at Northward had reached 221 people. The facility has a maximum capacity of 213.
In addition, the main adult women’s prison had 17 inmates – three shy of its maximum.
The Royal Cayman Islands Police jail was temporarily housing 11 Northward inmates, as well as six other people who had been arrested by police during the course of normal operations. The prison inmates and arrested individuals were being kept separate, police said. However, in ideal conditions, the police cells are not supposed to hold more than 12 people.
“I want to assure the public that the transfer of inmates to the Immigration Detention Centre and the reconfiguration of Her Majesty’s Prison, Northward, will in no way impact the department’s statutory obligations or compromise safety,” said Dax Basdeo, chief officer for the Ministry of Home Affairs.