(CNS): Government officials have said that the Conditional Release Bill, which was passed by legislators over a year ago, will come into effect in February. The law paves the way for lifers to receive a minimum term tariff on their sentences and introduces a more formal rehabilitation and release regime for all prisoners. However, government has not made any financial provision in this year’s budget for what could be a very costly change to the criminal justice system.
The legislation requires a conditional release board and the governor’s office has announced it is seeking applicants for nine positions on it. The new board will replace the existing parole board and make the future decisions and orders about those leaving prison under the new stricter regime.
The new legislation depends heavily on the rehabilitation and training of prisoners because the goal is to reduce reoffending. With an already existing tight budget and ongoing challenging conditions at the prison, the premier, who has responsibility for the jail under his home affairs ministry, said during this summer’s Finance Committee meeting that no additional cash had been budgeted in this financial year for the law. Not expecting it to be implemented until the 2015/16 financial year begins in July, Alden McLaughlin said that if it were to be implemented sooner, government would have to find money for it from somewhere else.
The bill addresses the human rights issues relating to the current mandatory life jail terms, where prisoners face dying behind bars. The law introduces a minimum tariff of 30 years for a life term given to those convicted of murder, unless there are exceptional circumstances, when it could be less, or aggravating circumstances that could see it being increased.
Under the new law, after that three decades behind bars prisoners can apply for parole but it will be up to the conditional release board to decide whether someone serving that life term is ready or not for release. They will also be tasked in deciding whether other prisoners who have served 60% of their sentences could be returned to the community without immediately reoffending.
Looking for up to nine people to sit on the board and make this critical decisions for the inmates and the community at large, a spokesperson for the governor’s office said, “This is a unique opportunity for people across society to serve the community and make a real difference to the criminal justice system in the Cayman Islands. We are looking for members with diverse skills and experiences who are committed to the rehabilitation of offenders and the protection of the public.”
The main purpose of the new conditional release scheme is to rehabilitate prisoners to function lawfully in society and live a useful life, to protect society from the criminal acts of repeat offenders and to reduce the growing costs of incarceration. But with the reoffending rate in the Cayman Islands higher than the rest of the Caribbean and Europe, the prison will need to step up the rehabilitation programmes and government will need to change attitudes of employers over the recruitment of ex-offenders if the legislation is to work.
The law will only be retrospective for lifers, all of whom will now be able to apply to the courts for a tariff and a small number of serving prisoners could therefore be released within two years. Each existing inmate will receive a hearing in open court to determine the period of incarceration the prisoner must serve before he can appear before the board for release on licence.
For those serving specific sentences however the previous rule of release after two thirds of a sentence will continue to apply. New prisoners, sentences after the conditional release bill is implemented, will in future serve a full 60% of their term before than can appear before the conditional release board and they will then need to convince the board they are ready to return to the community and stay out of trouble otherwise they will remain behind bars.
If released offenders will remain on license for the remainder of the sentence under supervision of the Department of Community Rehabilitation and monitored by the Police/911 if an electronic tag is part of the license conditions – putting further pressure on the already struggling probation service and police budgets.
A small implementation team has been assembled to oversee the implementation of the new Conditional Release Law which will involve drafting regulations and training of staff and the new board.
The closing date for applications is Friday 13 November however government has not yet supplied the details of the application process or the salaries/fees on offer to board members.