Prison starts new rehab project

| 08/05/2017 | 15 Comments

(CNS): Ten prison inmates are about to start a new pilot rehabilitation project run by HMP Northward in partnership with three local construction firms in which the offenders will learn and hone building skills to help them get out and stay out of jail. Faced with the requirements of the new Conditional Release Law, Prison Director Neil Lavis said he has a responsibility to lower the risk of re-offending among all of his current 195 inmates. But with resources stretched to the limit, the prison has struggled to staff its workshop and training facilities, so it has turned to the private sector for help.

Under the new law, no inmate serving more than twelve months gets out of jail early just for serving their time without causing trouble. So the prisoners are dependent on the jail authorities to help get them back on the road to recovery and release. All offenders serving one year or more must now go before the Conditional Release Board after serving 60% of their time to convince the panel that they no longer pose a risk to society if they are to be released before their full sentence is up.

In the past, provided inmates served their time without causing any problems, most could expect to serve around five ninths of their sentence before being released without conditions. But any release now before the end of a sentence is contingent on inmates demonstrating that they are reformed characters.

This means that addicts need to be drug free, violent offenders need to have their anger issues addressed and, above all, inmates will need to show they have learned a skill that can lead to a job on the outside, reducing their risk of offending after their release.

In the pilot project, Fresh Start, which launched on Thursday morning at a special ceremony, ten prisoners serving time for a variety of offences, from gun possession to bank robberies, will work with staff from Pheonix, Clan and Compass construction firms to build a unit from scratch on the prison compound. The building will add to the growing vocational training centre at HMP Northward as well as help hone new skills for the inmate.

Once the ten men have completed the on-site building, some will go on day release to work with the firms on existing projects in the community, and if all goes well, they will have the opportunity to work for these firms full-time once they leave prison. If the first ten inmates make a success of the project, it will be opened up to more prisoners and could be expanded if more firms come on board.

Lavis told CNS that resources are tight and the prison is stretched, and had been stretched for some time. “We are doing our very best and we are now using outside agencies and companies to get the workshops up and running,” he said, adding that this type of project can break the cycle of re-offending. “We can’t do it all on our own; we need outside help because of the tight resources.”

Lavis pointed out that all prisoners will be going back out into the community at some point and it’s the prison’s responsibility to try to reduce the risk they pose when they leave prison.

HMP Northward has a fully fitted training workshop with modern equipment where prisoners can learn numerous skills but the problem is finding the people to provide the actual training. And while the needs of inmates will take priority, it may be possible in future to share the facility with the wider community and have the centre become a training facility for people outside the prison in the evenings. 

Lavis is keen to partner with more private sector individuals to help with the growing rehab needs at the jail, which can house more than 200 men at any time but is desperately in need of redevelopment.

Despite advocating for a new jailhouse since he took up the top job, Lavis has never been under any illusions about the prison’s ability to attract enough public money when there is only so much to go around and far more popular funding demand, such as healthcare and education. As a result, he has done what he can to redevelop the existing site. Following the damning UK prison inspection in 2012 and the follow-up in 2015, in which the facility was essentially condemned, the director has done what he can with what he has got.

But the constant threat of overcrowding is a major challenge because when the prison is full, tensions increase and the training and rehab projects can all suffer. Northward, which has a maximum capacity of 214, has about 195 inmates but it can fill up in a matter of days, changing the security dynamics. And the new release law could place even greater pressures on the prison population if the board has to refuse the release of inmates at the 60% mark because they have not received any rehabilitation or training.

With crime showing no sign of decline and the police continuing to round up and prosecute offenders, it is more important than ever that those who no longer pose a threat to society get a chance to learn new skills to get out of jail and stay out. Vocational training is an important part in breaking the cycle of reoffending but the challenge for the prison authorities on a tight budget is to prevent a vicious cycle at the jail where overcrowding and security considerations prevent the vocational training, which fuels the overcrowding.

The requirements in the Conditional Release Law that all inmates are in a position to find work before they are released was broadly welcomed in the community. Most people believe that inmates should be required to reform while in prison and earn their way out, but without more public investment in the jail, as unpopular as it is, the rehabilitation fight could easily be lost.

In the end, most prisoners, even those refused early release, will leave at some point. Leaving with a new skill will give them at least a fighting chance of not ending up in your house, while you sleep, helping themselves to your new tablet and flat screen TV.

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Category: Crime, Crime Prevention, Prison

Comments (15)

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  1. Lion of Jah says:

    Things finally running right at the prison no illegal business thriving anymore Kudos to Mr Lavis and his team. Down wid those trying to undermine his success. Deh heathen back deh pan di wall Oh rise you fighters make a stand!

  2. Too Much for play 4u says:

    Boy Leroy those obeah people business like mad eh?

  3. Big Bout Ya says:

    Dear Mr Lavis some around you need to stop bad mouthing everything you do at HMP Northward while pretending they are doing right and carrying news to political henchmen Congrats on the new initaitive at the prison.i honestly hope it works out and not sabotaged by those people working in the AC department

  4. Anonymous says:

    Just another day in our much improved Civil Service. Congrats Mr Lavis.

  5. Anonymous says:

    oh so thats where the PPM plan to put the technical and vocational training for Caymanians !! Silly me, I just need to get sent to Northward and I am good

  6. Anonymous says:

    Sad that under this Government you have to go to Northward to learn a trade

  7. K. Loggins says:

    Just think, in a few years they could all be running for office.

  8. SisBy B says:

    Bigg Up director Neil Lavas for his efforts at Nothward at least they can’t rip us off now for working outside of prison! Now get rid of the little clique in the Front office pretending they care?

  9. 4 Real Man Down says:

    Finally the prisoners will get something out it, instead of getting on the job training doing work at certain and for certain senior prison official houses for free. Well done sir we are so proud of you Mr Lavis for formalizing this process and not allowing certain nationalities to work while the Caymanians were lock down 24-7 allowing convicted foreign nationals to return home flush with our $$$ You aint no hypocrite director Lavis

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hoping to see positive results of this program! I hope the prisoners appreciate the effort and really commit themselves to acquiring the skills they need to succeed “on the outside”.

  11. Veritas says:

    This seems to be an excellent idea, working on construction for community benefit and simaltaneously acquiring skills and a positive mindset that will greatly assist them in avoiding re-offending.
    However, yet again we hear of shortage of personnel and resources as with the fire dept.,DVDL, and customs whilst at the same time the Civil Service is creating new high level positions of questionable benefit.
    Instead of assisting itself the Civil Service should concentrate on alleviating the misery faced by taxpayers in departments which service the public directly yet offer such poor service.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This is encouraging. Well done. Persons are to want to help themselves.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Highly commendable and needs support from the entire community. We all make mistakes.

  14. Jada says:

    This is a chance of a life time guy, take advantage of this opportunity to become valid citizens of or beautiful island

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