Over the months and years, various observations have matured from the status of “news” to become merely statements of fact about the Cayman Islands: The sun is warm. The sea is turquoise. Her Majesty’s Prison at Northward is full.
Recently, however, it seems Northward’s overcrowding situation has evolved into a more acute affair. In May, the Compass reported that officials, seeking to relieve pressure on the prison, would shuffle “remand prisoners” awaiting court appearances to the police jail at Fairbanks.
Now, they have announced a new “fix” – shifting “suitably selected” prisoners to the Immigration Detention Centre, also at Fairbanks.
What’s next? Booking space at local hotels for overflow inmates? (Don’t laugh: That has been government’s solution for homeless families who have not yet located rental accommodations, and for the judicial administration needing room to conduct the landmark Saudi fraud trial known as the AHAB case.)
Interim Prisons Director Steven Barrett told the Compass that moving Northward inmates to the IDC is the “most viable short-term option available” for dealing with chronic prison overcrowding.
Unfortunately, he might be correct.
Generally speaking, we see three options to address overcrowding at Northward:
- Reduce the prison population through relaxed sentences, early release, decriminalization of certain activities (such as non-violent drug offenses), etc.
- Divert inmates to facilities outside Northward (such as the police jail or Immigration Detention Centre); or,
- Create space at Northward by expanding the prison (or building a larger prison elsewhere).
The first two solutions are undesirable for a multitude of reasons, and are not true “solutions.” The third is unfeasible in the absence of a commitment of significant funds the government appears not to have, and a viable long-term plan the government appears not to have made.
Ministry of Home Affairs chief officer Dax Basdeo said that shifting prison inmates to the IDC “will in no way impact the department’s statutory obligations or compromise safety.” That’s a vague assurance, not a long-term plan.
As government officials have repeatedly contended in the context of Cuban migrants’ complaints of potential human rights violations, the IDC is not a prison, or at least was not intended to be one. Even if the 13 Cuban asylum-seekers currently housed at the IDC will not have their security threatened by their new neighbors from Northward, at the very least government’s action will provide the Cubans with another bullet point to append to their legal pleas before the court.
As we have written before, it is government’s responsibility to ensure that all public facilities – including prisons – are adequate for present and future needs.
Anyone paying attention to Cayman’s growing population, packed court dockets and consistent supply of undereducated and unemployed young men (common characteristics of offenders) could foresee the inadequacy of facilities at our prisons.
Northward is full to capacity, our judicial dockets are jammed, our courthouse is crammed, and let’s not get started on our overflowing landfill, our inadequate roadways, or our partially completed construction projects, such as John Gray High School.
Largely because of the operational costs of running the government (personnel costs and benefits, in particular), capital projects have been ignored, neglected or interminably delayed. That imbalance is now – all too obviously – catching up with us.