A report into Cayman’s prisons has found that, despite some recent improvements, the state of jail cells at Northward, a lack of dedicated facilities for vulnerable prisoners, and the housing of young offenders within the adult population, continue to be serious concerns.
“The conditions of the cells themselves are still a major concern and not fit for human habitation, as supported by previous external inspection reports,” the Cayman Islands Independent Monitoring Board for Prisons and Places of Detention, said in its 2020 Annual Report on Thursday.
The 35-page report acknowledged that “commendable efforts have been made to
improve certain areas such as lighting, painting, replacement of toilets and shower heads, as well as the installation of temporary air conditioning in most wings,” but said more needs to be done.
“The general state of prisoner accommodations continues to be an issue, with cells having poor natural light and ventilation. Members of the Board have noted that dustbin liners are still being used as window covers, or makeshift shower curtains in some wings,” it said.
Board chair Dorothy Davis, in a media statement on the report, said, “It is important for our prisons to be managed in a way that respects the humanity of everyone involved in a prison, because prisoners do not lose their basic human rights just because they are sent to prison.”
She said through the board’s monitoring and reporting, it is hoped that “we can help to help everyone know what is actually happening behind the closed doors of our prisons, which may be different from what they hope or expect”.
It is important for our prisons to be managed in a way that respects the humanity of everyone involved in a prison, because prisoners do not lose their basic human rights just because they are sent to prison.
– Dorothy Davis
Mental health facilities inadequate
The board noted that there is still no separate wing for vulnerable prisoners in either Northward or Fairbanks women’s prison, and inmates with mental health issues are still incarcerated within the general prison population.
“Many of these prisoners [with severe mental health issues] seem to require specialised treatment, which the prison staff is unable to provide,” it stated.
According to the report, Barrett said there were 25 inmates on the psychiatrist’s list and “that there could be others as well with undiagnosed mental health issues”.
The board said it was told that, during 2020, prison staff received some mental health training, but there is still not a dedicated vulnerable prisoner wing or formal treatment facility to care for inmates with mental health needs.
“The sole place available within the prison for emergency mental health watch is the (High Risk Unit), which is used for punishment and segregation. This is by no means an acceptable alternative given the severity of some of the mental health issues officers are expected to deal with,” the report stated.
Young offenders in Northward
The report also highlighted that juvenile offenders are being housed in the same building in Northward as adult prisoners. The board noted that the young offenders are held in a separate annex of the building, “however this doesn’t always prevent interactions between juveniles and adult prisoners”.
The board stated in the report that, during the COVID-19 lockdown period, one juvenile was housed in the High Risk Unit due to the dedicated juveniles annex being used as a COVID-19 isolation area.
“The HRU houses some of the most volatile and high risk male prisoners and the juvenile was placed in this same environment for over 4 months,” the board noted.
Noting improvements made at Northward, the board pointed out that the Foxtrot wing and the enhanced section in Charlie wing are better maintained, ventilated and lit than the other wings, and added that “considerable work” is being done at Bravo wing to improve the toilet and shower facilities.
However, it was concerned that some wings lack an ‘association room’ in which prisoners can sit down and eat their meals.
“The Board has often observed prisoners eating in their cells or in corridors. This is not only uncomfortable for the prisoners, but also unhygienic and could cause pest infestation
issues,” it said.
Prisoners smoking throughout Northward and inside their cells remains an issue, the report said, “despite the fact that the Board was advised that a smoking cessation programme was due to start July 2019 to make Northward a smoke-free prison by 2020”.
“The only wing in the prison that is smoke-free is the therapeutic area in Charlie wing,
where prisoners have to be non-smokers to reside. Throughout all other wings the smoking inside still continues to be an issue,” the board added, noting concern for the other prisoners, staff and board members coming into contact with the smoke and the effect this could have on their health.
“The Board is also deeply concerned to observe officers giving prisoners cigarettes,” the report stated.
The board also said there still currently are “little to no facilities in place for prisoners with disabilities”.
“There are no specially adapted bathrooms or showers for disabled use and there is a lack of wheelchair access throughout the prison,” it noted.
Director of Prisons Stephen Barrett, commenting on the report, said he was pleased to note that the board “has not only recognised the significant difficulties presented to our staff and our partners by virtue of our environmental deficiencies, but have also fairly reported on the improvements and advances made in the delivery of our services”.
He added that the recommendations made and the proposed management actions “will drive the focus of our partnership going forward”.
In response to the report, the Home Affairs Ministry acknowledged the limitations of the existing facilities with regard to compliance with building regulations.
“The scope of the terms of reference for a proposed new prison estate includes a requirement for facilities that meet the legal, emotional and educational development needs of juveniles who may find themselves in prison,” the ministry added, in noting concerns about juveniles mixing with the general prison population.
As for mental health concerns, the ministry said, “a working group has already been
activated to take forward recommendations to improve mental health arrangements
across the criminal justice system, including places of detention”.