Prison rehab inconsistent and cash strapped

| 28/04/2016 | 7 Comments
Cayman News Service

HMP Northward, Grand Cayman

(CNS): The lack of resources at the Cayman Islands’ packed prison is presenting a serious and increasing challenge to prison management, and one of the unfortunate results is that rehabilitation often takes a back seat to security and safety at HMP Northward. But the new Conditional Release Law requires all inmates to go through comprehensive rehabilitation if they are to leave before the end of their full term, which puts the prison under pressure to massively increase and sustain its rehab programmes. Failure to do so will exasperate problems of overcrowding and leave inmates frustrated if they are refused release because of inadequate rehabilitation.

Prison Director Neil Lavis said that negotiations are ongoing to increase the annual prison budget of around $10 million, which is already inadequate to meet the current needs of prisoners.

In the past, if prisoners behaved during their stay in jail, they would automatically be released after serving two-thirds of their sentence, he explained. But those convicted after the implementation of the law in February for a term of more than 12 months will no longer be eligible for release until they have served 60% of their time and can demonstrate they have been rehabilitated.

Lavis warned that in other jurisdictions where indeterminate early release dates have been introduced, inmate populations “have gone through the roof”.

Officials said the prison service is understaffed by around 20 officers, and despite significant efforts by the director, his staff and the inmates themselves to work on renovations and beef up security, Northward today, 35 years after it opened, is no longer fit for purpose and needs to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch.

Lavis is committed to creating a more positive environment at the prison and very keen to support inmates’ rehabilitation because he firmly believes that the better prisoners are treated, the greater the likelihood of reducing offending. However, without a boost to resources, it will be extremely difficult to meet the new requirements of the law, he said.

At present, with around 211 men incarcerated, the jail is at maximum capacity. This means that prison officers are focused on the safety and security of inmates and staff, as tensions run a little high owing to the crowded conditions. It also means that several rehab and work programmes are on hold because there are no spare officers to ensure they are secure and, in some cases, teach the programmes.

The Conditional Release Law aims to curb the very high recidivism rates that plague Cayman’s offenders by addressing the reasons why inmates find themselves going through the revolving prison door. This includes drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes, anger management programmes and specialist counselling for sexual offenders.

It should also provide vocational training for inmates so that they can work when they return to the community instead of returning to a life of crime, as well as providing basic education for the significant numbers of prisoners who are functionally illiterate and innumerate.

When the usually locked doors of the jail were opened to the media for a day this week, prisoners told the press that there were some great rehab programmes at Northward’s newly renovated vocational training centre. The prison at times offers classes in a range of subjects, such as computer repair, auto-mechanics, as well as arts and literacy.

However — and this was a message that came from both inmates and officers — the programmes are far from consistent, constantly taking a back seat to the security needs of the prison.

Inmates expressed immense frustration at not having anything to do and being on lockdown in cells or confined to overcrowded and rundown wings when classes and work programmes are cancelled because of overcrowding, staff shortages or other resource challenges.

During this week’s prison media visit, several inmates said they were very keen to take part in rehabilitation programmes, especially vocational training, and pointed out that when people are in prison for significant periods, they need to leave with some qualification or quality training.

But many of them made it clear that their desire to do meaningful work or learn something while behind bars was fundamental to serving their time as well. The frustrations on the crowded B-wing were palpable, as prisoners complained vociferously about being pulled off work programmes or the cancellation of classes and training because of a lack of resources.

Lavis may be fighting hard for a greater slice of the public funds pie for the jail but he is well aware of the lack of political will to properly fund the prison.

Premier Alden McLaughlin, who as home affairs minister is responsible for the prison budget and an advocate for the Conditional Release Law, said there would be more money, but it is unlikely to be even close to what is needed to properly accommodate the wide range of needs for most of the prison population to enable them to leave.

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Category: Crime, Prison

Comments (7)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Any new prison should be a partnership with business money, the prison can be leased back to gov negating a lot of the initial outlay and ongoing costs,etc.

  2. Sharkey says:

    I agree with most of what is trying to do , but there’s a lot of pros and cons of it .
    I don’t agree that prison should be demolished and rebuild a new prison, why should
    prisoners have the privilege of doing their time in a new and comfortable place .

    But the program of rehabitation of some prisoners , I completely agree with.
    We have to realize that most these are uneducated and unskilled with low
    self-esteem , that this could be the place and time to put that in these people so that they
    can returned to society and be just like one of us .

    But I think that strict rules and regulations has to be made known to the prisoners before they start the program .
    One you don’t want them making weapons to kill the guards or anyone else .
    Two violations of one would disqualify you from the program and put you back to square one of your sentence .

  3. Anonymous says:

    Legalize ganja and most inmates can go home.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Here we go again, more money on prison officers and police, here’s an idea stop being Jamaica’s employer and put that money into the schools, at least it will still be going to mainly Jamaicans but in positive future looking manner.

  5. Anonymous says:

    How many Caymanians are involved in the program?

    • Anonymous says:

      Interesting point. Why should we bother spending limited resources on persons who will be deported on release?

  6. Anonymous says:

    A lot her to be considered, wipe away the emotion and let’s look at the issues. How many staff exist in the rehabilitation program. Why not privatized the programs to be delivered and you would get better bang for your bucks. It would be more effective to contract the services, as oppose to employing people full time. You would get better a better outcome. Who is overseeing the education program, why not hand it over to the education department or a private institution and let the prison get on with the security aspect.i dare say that is what’s happening in most of advance society and the U.K. To get a better handle on the budget, how is this broken up, how much is spent on staff, overtime and other related cost. There will always be a case for more resources, but a value for money audit would better inform the public, and get the support of the public. Now this Conditional Release Law did the experts consider the impact. How many prisoners will be returned causing further overcrowding, if they broke any of their conditions? What is the recall rate for parolees, that should provide and indication. Finally, let us not ignore the Directors, subtle warning about tension, everything should be done to reduce the tension, by offering whatever support can be given in the short term.

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