Director to keep battling for new prison

| 02/09/2015 | 21 Comments
Cayman News Service

HMP Northward, Grand Cayman

(CNS): The prison director says it is no secret that HMP Northward is not fit for purpose, and while he will continue to pitch for new facilities, he recognises it’s not a popular option for spending millions of tax payers’ money. However, as a seasoned expert in the prison system, Neil Lavis has made it clear that how people are treated when they are incarcerated has a direct impact on their rehabilitation success. Built in 1980 and never designed to hold the kind of inmates currently incarcerated there, the prison is an increasing liability, as the director and his staff keep patching the place together.

Aware that he is facing an uphill battle, he said the recent improvements in the local jail system, as recorded in the latest UK inspection update, are mostly due to addressing previous shortcomings in the areas that don’t require cash. But in order for the prison to continue to improve it will ultimately require tearing down Northward and building a new prison.

Lavis told CNS that he believes a new modern prison facility would cost around $40 million, and while the price tag may seem hefty when government is faced with the need to build schools, a waste management facility, a new sewerage system, a court house and police station as well as other public sector initiatives, the annual prison budget is higher than it needs to be because of the state of Northward.

Recent updates to the prison security required improvements to the fence, which cost the public purse over $1.5 million and it may need further enhancements. The prison kitchen will need to be rebuilt this year because of health and safety reasons, adding another $300,000 to the budget. Every year the prison is spending more than $100,000 on basic maintenance and has very high utility bills because of the state of the buildings and the constant water leaks. Lavis also explained that a modern facility would need fewer prison officers to keep it secure.

Managing more than half a dozen ad hoc buildings, most of which were not designed by prison experts, plus 80 members of staff is far more costly annually than if the 185 or so prisoners currently in the system were housed in a modern purpose-built prison.

The public often complain about the $70,000 per year it costs to keep each inmate, but Lavis explained that the costs are so high because of the poor state of the facility, as he pointed to the false economy that he faces.

Although he is pleased that an update on a recent inspection has noted many improvements in the procedures and policies at Northward, Lavis said there is only so much he can do to improve the prison in line with recommendations without a new jail. Nevertheless, he has tried to improve things that don’t cost money and he gave credit to prison staff for many of the positive steps forward.

Having taken a modern enlightened approach to managing inmates at Northward and HMP Fairbanks, where there are currently just 11 women. as well as the immigration detention centre, Lavis has built a reputation for improving the relationships between staff and inmates.

Speaking on Radio Cayman’s morning talk show last week, he spoke about the importance of respect between officers and inmates and the link between how people are treated and how things turn out.

The director said he was aware how people think about prisons but he asked them to consider the appropriate level of decency and treatment they would want to see if it was their close family member or loved one who was sent to Northward, as he warned about the negative impacts of detaining people in poor conditions.

But with no sign of his entreaties being heard Lavis said all he can do is move forward slowly but surely with the budget he has as he continues to “keep on banging on” for a new facility.

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Category: Crime, Prison

Comments (21)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Maybe the UK or the EU could build a new prison for us or provide a loan. In fact, this would be a drop in the bucket if the mother country redirect this from the billions given to other countries from the overseas development funds as a goodwill gesture to ensure compliance with human rights. This is something that the Premier should be negotiating with the OT Minister or our ‘ friends of the CI’ in Britain on our behalf as I agree with Neil on this.

  2. CAT says:

    Let’s finish the schools then worry about a new prison… Or perhaps get competent prison employees who follow and implement the rules…

  3. Anonymous says:

    Legalize, tax, and control all drugs (yes, all).

    Improve mental heath infrastructure.

    Make explicit and age appropriate sex education mandatory in the schools.

    Make birth control products available at low cost without cultural negative stigmatization.

    Do these four things and the prison population will decrease significantly over time.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree heartily with your four points. Only change I would make is to decriminalize drugs rather than legalising them. It’s only a word but has strong impact legally.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Neil Lavis is just like David Baines, from the same place and all smoke and mirrors. Oh no, how can you possibly say that? Well I just did. Freedom of speech ain’t dead yet…?

  5. Warden of Wakefield says:


    1. Move the prison to Cayman Brac to revitalize its economy.

    2. Pay governments of Jamaica or Cuba 30k to house our violent criminals and ship them off to real prisons to help inspire their ‘rehabilitation’ and appreciation for freedom.

    3. Deport all foreign prisoners and deem them “persona non grata” status effectively banning them re-entry into the Cayman Islands forever.

    4. Request the Chief Officer of Home Affairs to mandate that his partners at the Security Centre Ltd or its affiliates when they eventually win the RFP bid to provide a purpose built minimum security private prison in Cayman Brac instead of Grand Cayman capping costs to house each prisoner to CI$36k per annum.

    Since Mr. Lavis wants a new prison and jobs for the family and friends like everybody else from aboard on the government payroll in RCIPS and HMPS; lets be transparent do a thorough costs benefit analysis, request funding from the FCO and stop pretending that a privatized prison is not being considered at lodge meetings and get togethers by the Ministry of Home Affairs as a costs savings to the CI Government. Instead of the newsest get rich scheme it is intended to be for those with influence within the halls of power.

    • Anonymous says:

      If a new prison is to be built, then lets get right outside of the box and build it as an instructional technical school. Turn light case prisoners into productive members of the community. Allow them to earn early release. Give them the incentive to be able to have visitors permits as a reward. Let them build their own prison and take pride in their achievements. We may find that even the worst recidivists will take notice.
      The current system of throwing young ganja smokers in with murderers is so very very wrong in all respects.
      Cayman can be so much better than the status quo and is small enough to set an example for the rest of the Caribbean if not the world.
      Go for it Cayman Islands!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Build a new prison and convert this one into a LGBT Holy Bible Evidence Rehabilitation Centre with a certain elderly MLA, whose modern views on the subject are well known, as its Director.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Make a deal with Jamaica or Cuba to house our prisoners… Offer them 30-40K per prisoner per year. We get the scum off of our island and save 30K a head. Problem solved.

    • Boss Hogg says:

      Great idea. That way they can apprentice under real gangsters and return home with a much more complete understanding of what it takes to create mayhem.

      Please do not make any more idiotic suggestions.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I like this Director he is thinking!!

    • Anonymous says:

      Agreed. So good to see a professional dedicated to doing the right thing despite a lack of interest from the powers that be..well done mr. Lavis.

  9. Anonymous says:

    close the prison..sell the land…send prisoners to cuba….problem solved.

    • Anonymous says:

      Can’t separate the poor little diddums from their families, 3:29 – Human Rights.

    • Anonymous says:

      I love all these suggestions of sending our criminals to other countries. What makes you think that they want our scumbags?

  10. Anonymous says:

    What we really need is a minimum security prison. Build some bunkhouses on the former prison farm in East End and relocate all inmates not imprisoned for a crime that involved violence or the threat of violence there. They could grow fruits and vegetables, take care of farm animals, and generally learns things that will be useful for them upon release.

    Any attempts to escape or continue with the activities that caused them to be imprisoned would warrant an immediate return to Northward.

    There is really no need to have an expensive high-security prison for the majority of prisoners who pose no real threat to anyone.

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