The Cayman Islands is establishing a new monitoring system for its prisons that will include citizens making site visits to local jails and detention centers.
A board of community volunteers will visit the institutions, which include the prisons, police holding cells and the Immigration Detention Centre.
That system, put into place with consultation from the United Kingdom’s Independent Monitoring Board, will take on the responsibility of making sure Cayman’s prisoners are treated equitably.
“We have identified the need to revisit and update both the Terms of Reference of the existing Prisons Inspection Board and the framework and standards for its work,” said Acting Governor Franz Manderson in an official statement. “The goal is to provide regular, independent, preventive monitoring in order to ensure that human rights are upheld and that meaningful accountability is maintained.”
A two-person team representing the U.K.’s Independent Monitoring Board visited Cayman from Aug. 28 to 31. Their job was to provide advice to government and training to board members, which is expected to take place at some point later this year.
The Bill of Rights in the Cayman Islands Constitution Order requires that the government complies with national and international standards.
That means that the government is required to ensure that proper standards of care and decency are maintained for places designated for incarceration.
“The inmates at Fairbanks, Northward and the various detention centers are members of our society,” said Tara Rivers, the minister of home affairs. “We need to make sure that we are providing for them in a way that is humane, meets international obligations, and provides them with opportunities to meaningfully and successfully reintegrate into society once they leave the prison system.”
The two-person team from the U.K. included Dame Anne Owers, the current national chair of Independent Monitoring Boards and former chief inspector of prisons, and Sue Bird, an experienced Independent Monitoring Board member with 10 years of experience as a prison monitor.
The goal, said Dame Owers, is to make sure the Cayman Islands has a system built to last.
“We aren’t coming to say the way we do it in the U.K. is the way you should do it on Cayman,” she said in the statement. “The reason we are here is to find out about the particular circumstances here, the particular challenges and the opportunities so that you can create something here which is special for you and which works for your society, your prisoners, and those who work within your prisons.”
In 2015, a report on Cayman’s prisons was highly critical of conditions, though noted that there had been improvements since a previous inspection in 2012. The 2015 report, conducted by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, noted that prisoners were held in “squalid” conditions and that they were subjected to “unregulated and arbitrary” punishment.
The new regulatory framework hopes to improve upon the pre-existing conditions. Ms. Bird said that the role of a prison monitor is to “ensure fairness and decency for those in custody.”
“It’s important that we’re there and it’s important that we are people from everyday society,” she said, “so that people can respond to us and we can report to the people that need to know and, in turn, create safer prisons and a better society for all.”
During their visit, Dame Owers and Ms. Bird met with project team members from the Office of the Deputy Governor and from the Governor’s Office. The new monitoring board will come under the Office of the Deputy Governor. The U.K. visitors also consulted with Mr. Manderson and Ms. Rivers in addition to the police commissioner and Prison Service staff.
The team visited HM Northward Prison, Fairbanks Prison, the Police Detention Centre in George Town and the Immigration Detention Centre. All of that information will be used, said Dame Owers, to enable a better path to developing the monitoring framework of the prisons.
“It’s for the benefit of all society that our prisons are places where people learn to live better lives rather than just going on to do what they did before,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to invest in prisons and that’s why it’s important that civil society is present in prisons to reflect back to the rest of society what’s actually going on and what can be helpful.”
Cayman’s Director of Prisons Steve Barrett said in the statement that he was “delighted” that the Cayman Islands Government has taken steps to establish an Independent Monitoring Board for the Prison Service.
“Such a board, when fully functioning, will help to ensure that prisoners’ rights are upheld,” he said, “and that their treatment and management is fair, and that prison regimes are shaped to support their rehabilitation and their ultimate release back to our communities.”