For the last two-and-a-half years, the Cayman Islands average adult male and female prison population has hovered between 217 and 218 prisoners – a 17 percent increase from earlier years.

According to statistics released last week, the combined populations of Her Majesty’s Prisons Northward (for adult males) and Fairbanks (for adult females) averaged 217 prisoners per day in 2016 and 219 prisoners per day in 2017.

For the previous four years, from 2012 to 2015, the prisons’ population averaged 186 prisoners held per day.

Northward Prison alone held an average of 204 prisoners each day since January 2016. So far this year, the adult men’s prison numbers have swelled to the point where overflow inmates are being kept at the Royal Cayman Islands Police jail. Northward’s stated capacity is 213 prisoners.

The women’s prison at Fairbanks averaged about 14 prisoners per day since 2016, although, more recently, numbers have swelled to between 17 and 18 female detainees. At one stage in 2018, the adult prisons system held more than 250 people in lockup.

The yearly figures collated by the government mean Northward Prison officers have been managing a near-capacity detention facility continuously for the last 31 months.

Part of the reason for the overflowing prisons in recent years may be attributable to a significant change in the law governing the release of prisoners on license, which requires most inmates to serve longer incarceration periods.

The Conditional Release Law requires prison inmates who receive sentences of more than one year to serve at least 60 percent of that time in lockup, after which they may be paroled or they may have to remain in confinement. The decision depends on members of the appointed Conditional Release Board.

That law came into effect in mid-February 2016.

Before that, the former Prisons Law provided that violent criminals, such as robbers, rapists, kidnappers and arsonists, were required to spend five-ninths of their sentence in prison. However, non-violent offenders were often required to serve just one-third of their prison sentences before being made eligible for release.

The Conditional Release Board has agreed to release the vast majority of convicted prisoners after 60 percent of their jail sentences have been served. However, all of those prisoners convicted after Feb. 15, 2016, under the new law will be staying longer in prison than those released under the five-ninths rule (55 percent of sentence) or those released on one-third of time served (33 percent of sentence).

The Conditional Release Board reported earlier this year that 84 percent of offenders who sought conditional release during the current term of their prison sentences were allowed out, while 16 percent of those who applied were denied release.

A total of 38 prisoners were released on license during 2017, the board reported, while seven others who applied were kept in prison.

“A prisoner will only be released after he or she is deemed to be a low risk to the safety and welfare of the community,” the report from Conditional Release Board Chairwoman Debra Humphreys read. “Just because an offender is eligible for parole, it does not follow that they will be released.”

Overcrowding

The adult male prison population on Grand Cayman reached critical mass as of June 30, 2018, with 221 people being housed at Northward Prison – a facility with a stated maximum capacity of 213.

Since at least March this year, Northward has been steadily sending remand prisoners to the RCIPS detention center in Fairbanks, George Town. The police detention center is only meant to house criminal suspects that RCIPS officers have arrested, not charged individuals being held in prison awaiting trial.

The police have found themselves with up to 11 remand prisoners from Northward at various times, who must be kept apart from anyone officers arrest in connection with day-to-day operations.

By Aug. 3, the numbers held in the police jail had reduced. Police officials said they were averaging two to five remand prisoners from Northward.

In addition, by last week, authorities had removed all remaining Cuban migrants from the Immigration Detention Centre in Fairbanks, making room for Northward inmates, if necessary, to go there. However, some security enhancements at the facility are needed before prisoners can be taken there.