(CNS): The local prison system still needs significant investment and HMP Northwood remains “decrepit and squalid”, with ganja use prolific among inmates, a UK prison inspector has said. During a return visit to the Cayman Islands to follow up on a damning 2012 report on the state of local prisons, British officials from its independent inspectorate have identified signs of improvement but found Cayman’s prisons and custody suites were still in poor condition, with many problems in the prison system.
Prison Director Neil Lavis was noted as having made a “significant difference”, and there was now more accountability and the indifference of staff towards prisoners was being addressed. However, the follow up report, some three years after the original damning inspection, pointed to a catalogue of problems with both the facilities and the system.
Treatment of prisoners was still said to be poor and inmates continue to report feeling unsafe and facing victimisation from both staff and other prisoners.
“The availability of illegal drugs, particularly marijuana, in Northward remained high,” the officials said.
Describing both prisons as being in “very poor condition”, the report said HMP Fairbanks resembled a storage facility and was an oppressive environment, while HMP Northward was “decrepit and squalid”.
Once the conditional release bill, which was passed the last year, is implemented, the issue of meaningful rehabilitation will be front and centre for the prison service. But the 2015 report found too few prisoners are engaged in purposeful activity that might better equip them for resettlement.
Nick Hardwick, the UK’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, said the updated report demonstrated the importance of inspections of facilities, such as prisons, that are normally hidden from public view and the report had encouraged the local authorities to make improvements. .
“The Cayman authorities have demonstrated confidence and courage in engaging in this process,” the UK prison boss said. “Northward and Fairbanks were still not good prisons. There was much to do to make them better. The prisons need urgent investment, improved joint working with other public services and strong support for the Director. That said, improvement was evident and the prisons were more hopeful places.”
Hardwick said there was some distance still to be travelled and the custodial facilities in Cayman need to be subject to regular, independent preventive monitoring in order to ensure that human rights are upheld and accountability is maintained.
The inspectors also visited the police custody suites at George Town, Bodden Town and the police marine unit base, as well as the court cells in George Town. Despite some improvements in the custody process since the previous inspection, the cells at GTPS, described in 2012 as “barely fit for human habitation” had not changed. The inspectors noted the development of the new custody suite at Fairbanks but despite being almost complete, its opening continues to be delayed.
The custody suite at the courthouse also remained inadequate and the inspectors said that custody practice in general was inconsistent, with no clear formal policies or standards or coordination and cooperation between partner agencies.
Lavis recently spoke with CNS about the multiple challenges he has faced at the prison. He said he had been hopeful of a more positive response from the follow-up inspection because much work had been done by the prisoners themselves to improve the security of HMP Northward, with repairs to buildings and the enhancements to the prison parameters. But Lavis also made it clear that, as unpopular as it may be to make the investment required in the local prison system, Cayman needs a new secure jail.
The current facility has a security level that would be fine for low category offenders, Lavis explained, but Northward is home to a significant number of violent and high security risk ‘category A’ inmates, including murderers, rapists, gunmen and gang leaders.
Category: Local News