Curious tourists took photos and videos from their balconies at the Westin Grand Cayman resort as a cohort of 22 prison officer recruits stood at attention below.

After a brief inspection from Acting Governor Franz Manderson, the group was told by drill instructor Randolph Scott to stand at ease.

About 30 minutes later, the 18 men and four women would be receiving their certificates for passing what Interim Prisons Director Steven Barrett described as a “very arduous process.”

According to Mr. Barrett, 338 people initially applied for the latest round of vacancies at Her Majesty’s Cayman Islands Prison Service. Of those applicants, 261 were invited to participate in a literacy and numeracy test. Mr. Barrett said that only 105 passed those tests, moving on to a fitness test.

A final 60 were selected to be interviewed, and only 23 made it through the entire training process, said the prisons director. One of the recruits dropped out for “family reasons” after passing the training process, but the 22 graduates still made for the largest cohort of recruits in the prison service’s history, Mr. Barrett said.

Along with congratulating the recruits, Mr. Barrett also talked about the importance of prisons serving as institutions of rehabilitation.

The recruits will be frustrated at times, he said, but will serve a crucial role in making sure that inmates can reenter society as productive individuals.

Helping rehabilitate inmates is difficult, but not impossible, he said.

Mr. Manderson illustrated this point by telling a story from a recent encounter with a prison officer.

“I was at a function a few months ago, and there was a prison officer there. A young man came up and hugged him and said, ‘Thank you for all you have done for me,’” the acting governor said. “That didn’t happen by accident. It’s because the prison officer had the right attitude. He went to work knowing he had the great privilege of making someone’s life better.”

According to Mr. Barrett, the recruits all have similar opportunities to make a positive impact.

“You’re now my colleagues,” he said.

The influx of prison officers comes at a time when the facilities at Northward face overcrowding. 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. For the previous four years, from 2012 to 2015, the prisons’ population averaged 186 prisoners held per day..

Along with the added prison officers, government is exploring other areas to house inmates, including the currently empty Immigration Detention Centre. Security provisions and other upgrades will need to be made before that facility is ready to house inmates, according to government.

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