Mental health presents major challenge for prison

| 27/04/2016 | 7 Comments
Cayman News Service

Prisoners at HMP Northward

(CNS): Life at HMP Northward can be very challenging for all inmates and staff because the country’s prison is no longer fit for purpose, bursting at the seams and massively under-resourced. But one of the most pressing difficulties is the incarceration of prisoners with, in some cases, very serious mental health challenges who should not be in jail. Both prisoners and prison staff agree that the mentally ill do not belong in Northward and the need for a secure unit in Cayman to house these very vulnerable individuals must be a priority.

As HMP Northward marks its 35th anniversary since its opening, the management flung open the doors of the jail house this week and invited the press for a ‘warts and all, no holds barred’ tour of the facility, as well as meetings with inmates on the Prison Council.

While the management and inmates may not always see eye to eye on what the priorities are for the future of HMP Northward, there are a few key points, such as the pressing need for a new prison and the incarceration of inmates with mental health problems, where they are in agreement. Several inmates spoke of the challenges they see the mentally ill prisoners facing and prison officers agreed.

Northward is not unique in this regard, as prisons around the world are often the last stop for the mentally ill and even sophisticated and well-resourced western societies commonly fail these members of the community.

However, Cayman’s prison has no proper facilities within its walls or means to segregate its mental health patients, and while a small number of the most challenged patients are isolated in what amounts to a caged area in the grounds of Northward, most are living among the broader, crammed prison community.

While some of those diagnosed with mental health problems are segregated on 23-hour lockdown in the high security unit, others remain on the remand wing and some in the exceptionally crowded main B-wing, where almost 70 men are currently house in a condemned cell block.

Prison officers told the press Wednesday that keeping inmates suffering from mental health problems is very difficult for staff because it is hard to create sentencing plans for them and they create very challenging security problems as they can be a danger to themselves and others.

One officer also noted that some of the inmates with a poor level of mental health are exceptionally vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation by other inmates. While some prisoners are very tolerant and try to help and support those with mental health difficulties, it is a serious challenge for everyone at the prison, given the significant numbers.

There is a broad spectrum of problems among the inmates, including prisoners suffering from serious addictions due to years of self-medication with drugs and alcohol for undiagnosed issues. Depression that can impact inmates during their sentencing, and there are also those who have very obvious and serious psychotic disorders.

However, the exact numbers of inmates with mental health problems is hard to define. While there is counselling available and the government’s leading psychiatrist, Dr Marc Lockhart, is a frequent visitor and is medicating a number of prisoners, inmates told CNS that not all those that are suffering from mental health problems are being treated because they have not even been diagnosed.

“No one is addressing the scale of the mental health problems here,” said one inmate, who is certain that government is simply ignoring the extent of the problem.

Prison Director Neil Lavis explained that opening the prison up to the media for a day was to try and dispel some of the myths and show the hard work of the prison staff in the face of massive challenges, including the problems of mental health.

Lavis said the prison system receives people after every other system in society has failed them and does so in extremely difficult conditions with limited resources. As a forgotten place, he said the Corrections Week and anniversary provided an opportunity to show the excellent work at the prison in very trying conditions.

Check back to CNS for more from the prison, including inmate’s perspectives, funding challenges, the new conditional release law and the efforts prisoners are making to contribute to the community.

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Category: Crime, Prison

Comments (7)

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  1. Al Catraz says:

    This is simple. Just use the Brac.

    Evacuate the law-abiding people from the Brac. Send a boat over once a month to drop off new prisoners and to pick up the ones that have served their term.

    Tourists will probably not notice the difference.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It has money for gambling so why and consultants. Here is a novel idea. Stop wasting money,hiring consultants, paying staff who don’t show for work, hiring based on nationality. Even these little adjustments would make a difference.

  3. George says:

    Well, Moses says CIG’s priority is the dock! So there you go….

    Mind you the real order of priority should be as follows:

    1) The dump (Long overdue!)

    2) Mental Health Facility (Long over due!)

    3) Renovation & Relocation of the Owen Roberts Airport; should be on the Eastern side of the island – as we will never be able to expand the runway into the North Sound.

    4) Revise infrastructure of center of GT; consider closing the center of the Capital to all traffic during specified hours to accommodate tourism and also alleviate congestion which builds in the center. A trolley system could be used to bus people to and from the center; paid parking meters & spots on the outskirts of the center. Change is inevitable and progress means what is best for all not just a few (Moses?).

    5) Expand prison; separate criminals from mental health patients. (FLOW tower needs to be moved from their current location near the Prison as it allows inmates to use cell phones and use the internet; cell phone blocking devices cannot be used because of the tower being located there!)

    6) Laws need to be implemented with restrictions on how many cars per house hold; like Bermuda!

    7) Laws need to be implemented with regards to a “clean air act” – too many cars and public buses on the road bellowing out black smoke, stifling the cars behind them and any pedestrians on the road!

    ALL of the above before a dock can be considered; just my humble opinion.

    • Anonymous says:

      While you they are at it, bring the Minustry and dept of education together. Such a waste of money on such a tiny island to have them separate. It appears Alden does not have thr balls.

  4. Anonymous says:

    the whole system is outdated….,,,from the police the courts…to the prisons…
    but get used to it….because cayman has no money to fix any of this….

    • Anonymous says:

      Plenty money. Just no willing.

      • Anonymous says:

        CIG doesn’t have any money at all. They have budgets. The money comes from us, the duty-paying citizens. We overpay the government to spend our money on things that many of us don’t agree with. Just like it has always been.

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