(CNS): Due to a shortage of staff, the prison service is turning to the private sector to help rehabilitate and retrain inmates who will be due for release. Although nine new recruits have now begun training to become prison officers,
Cayman Islands jails are around 35% understaffed, the prison management has confirmed. With the prison almost full, the officers are all focused on the safety and security of inmates, so rehab programmes are being managed by other agencies and local businesses are now teaching prisoners new skills.
The management said that over the last nine months the prison has lost several members of staff responsible for case management and sentence planning. Sources tell CNS that this has caused considerable challenges for the prison and its need to help inmates meet the requirements of the Conditional Release Law.
Following the passage of that legislation last year, prisoners who have behaved well are no longer automatically released after serving two-thirds of their sentence. Those who have been given sentences longer than twelve months must now meet certain requirements regarding rehabilitation before they can be released and demonstrate that they will be able to find work. If not, inmates will remain locked up, leading to an increase in the prison population and increasing the pressure on the limited capacity and resources.
With only the woodwork shop and the computer lab open, there is already a significant shortage of retraining programmes. However, the prison has denied that it is not able to provide the help prisoners need to be released after serving 60% of their time, and said that, starting this month, it will be getting additional support from the Department of Community Rehabilitation, which will be stationed at the prison.
But it will be “corporate stakeholders” who will be doing the training at the vocational unit.
“We have found this necessary because the officers capable of providing vocational training to the inmates are needed to fulfill operational needs in other areas of the prison operations due to staff shortages,” officials said in response to CNS enquiries. “Our first priority is to the safety and security of prisoners and the community. Having private sector partners provide the training relieves the staffing issues.”
Officials added, “We see the privatisation of the VT Training Center as an advantage because it immediately creates a networking link for the prisoner for post-release employment.”
The prison said it is addressing issues such as substance abuse, anger, healthy living and relationships and positive decision-making among inmates to help get them ready for release. Officials said prisoners take part in a variety of courses, such as “employability skills” classes on Tuesdays and Thursday hosted by the NWDA and CXC maths, which is taught by volunteers.
The prison said that budgetary restraints and limited resources are creating challenges. Security is a priority but addressing potential re-offending is also vital and there is not enough resources to do both. “We must first ensure the safety and security of the prisoners, staff and the wider community,” the prison stated. “To reduce recidivism and the risk of re-offending, rehabilitative opportunities are critical.”
Given the shortage of officers available to work with prisoners on their rehabilitation, Prison Director Neil Lavis has formed a project team to explore the possibility of partnering with private companies who could facilitate all the vocational training programmes and workshops.
“This public/private sector partnership will facilitate much-needed prisoner training whilst they are incarcerated and better prepare them for participation in the release on temporary licence programme, with the hope that at the end of their sentence they will be able to obtain employment.”
The NDC and DCR are also helping and the prison said a forensic psychologist offers risk assessment reports to the Conditional Release Board, and has implemented a Sex Offender Treatment Programme. Officials said that eleven offenders graduated from the class last year and more treatment classes will be offered throughout this year due to the success and demand from the prisoners.
Officials said that as both the conditional release and the release on temporary licence, where prisoners still serving time go out of the jail to work, are still relatively new, they will monitor the progress closely. But they made it clear that adequate resources will be needed to help inmates prepare for release.
A new recruitment class of officers, including four Caymanians, started last month. The two women and seven men began an intensive eight week basic training course, in which they will cover theory and practical application of prison craft.
“These individuals will be exposed to a great deal of learning in critical areas, such as prison policy and proper procedures, how to conduct searches, control and restraint techniques, rehabilitation strategies, and other required techniques that help maintain good order within the prison,” Lavis said in a recent release.
After the classroom training, the new recruits will spend four weeks shadowing other seasoned prison officers in on the job training. Lavis said the new recruits were “eager to assume the difficult and sometimes dangerous work that goes with being a prison officer”.