Cayman needs new jail with rehab focus

| 29/06/2017 | 41 Comments
Cayman News Service

Prison Director Neil Lavis

(CNS): The prison director thinks the time has come for the Cayman Islands to invest in a new prison and provide more intense rehabilitation services as part of the local fight against crime. Well aware that public spending on jails is rarely popular, Neil Lavis said it was obvious that the current system is not working and that HMP Northward is no longer fit to deal with the numbers and the needs of inmates. The prison is full to bursting point and several remand prisoners are being held at Fairbanks detention centre because the crumbling prison cannot cope with the current number of people being incarcerated.

A complete rebuild of the prison is estimated to be around CI$40 million, and there are now some plans in the works to begin a new prison project in phases. While no one wants to invest in new prisons, the reality is that HMP Northward has to be replaced.

Lavis said the current site is big enough for a new modern facility to be constructed step by step so that the investment can be spread over several years. The crime environment has changed dramatically since the prison was built and he warned that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the service to run the jail and rehabilitate offenders successfully.

Although security has been improved as a result of the perimeter fence project and the use of technology, there are still safety and security challenges. However, the day-to-day management of the prison and sentencing programmes for inmates is an even bigger challenge.

The needs of the prison population range from those who pose a high security risk to inmates with severe mental health issues or drug and alcohol addiction. Prisoners also need help with workplace and living skills to reintegrate back into society. But not all of these needs are being met as well as they should be in the current facility, Lavis said, adding that there is no doubt that the jail needs both more resources and more community support.

Speaking to CNS just before a special ceremony for ten inmates who passed through the first phase of a very successful construction project and training programme at the prison, Lavis stressed the importance of rehabilitation and the need to engage and help prisoners, rather than throwing away the key. He said the community must support the prison system to help inmates turn their lives around and not forget about the people in Northward. He said a successful prison system depended on a multi-agency approach to help inmates successfully transition back into the community.

The issue of rehabilitation has been compounded by the Conditional Release Law, which says that prisoners can no longer be released after serving around two-thirds of their time on good behaviour alone. Every prisoner who was incarcerated after February last year for more than twelve months must go before the new Conditional Release Board and demonstrate that they are not going to re-offend as a result of going through a full rehabilitation process. That means overcoming addiction, being treated for mental health problems, gaining new skills to help them get work, and having a support network outside prison.

This places a heavy burden on the jail to ensure any offender due for release who has served their time in accordance with the rules is also given the full range of support to help them get out.

Lavis explained that Northward has many challenges, not least dealing with such a wide range of offenders, which include those who have committed crimes of poverty such as poaching conch, gang leaders serving life sentences for murder, white-collar criminals, sex offenders and the chronic repeat offending burglars.

Although it is difficult to get public support for more modern and progressive approaches to managing prisoners, Lavis said the situation at the moment is not working because inmates are re-offending on release. But this has nothing at all to do with the idea that HMP Northward is some kind of holiday camp. “It’s nothing like the Ritz,” he said.

The conditions at Northward remain almost inhumane. At the height of the summer prisoners are crammed into the narrow, hot, noisy, run-down and crumbling wings. Even in the privileged areas, where prisoners are making strides in their rehabilitation and rewarded with slightly better conditions, the cells are shoddy and cramped.

However, Lavis believes that, even given the state of the jail, things can change and there are ways of turning around the recidivism problem.

He cited the work of some northern Europe prison systems, where the focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment has seen the authorities empty the jails, while HMP Northward still has chronic recidivism rates that are exacerbated by the lack of real investment in helping rather than warehousing and punishing prisoners.

“Investment at the beginning will bring savings in the long run,” he said, adding that it would also cut down crime.

While strides have been made with meaningful rehabilitation, such as mental health and addiction counselling, specialist coping courses and skills training, it is not enough to make a real impact.

The prison currently manages on an annual budget of around $13.9 million. It employs 98 officers, though a recent audit said that because of its security challenges, it would require another 14 staff members to function properly. It also needs much more investment in specialist rehabilitation initiatives, otherwise the situation at this end of the criminal justice system is not going to change and Cayman will continue to suffer the results of rising crime.

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Comments (41)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Please consider paying another country who have privately run prisons to take ours. It would probably be cheaper than the ci$70,000 it costs us per year. Now we looking st another $40 million fir a new facility plus interest, staffing cost increases etc. !!!!

    Start with Shipping out people serving 10 years or more. If more space is needed then you send those serving 5 years or more.

    • Anonymous says:

      1:52 pm, agreed. Tax payers wake up, it must be somewhere around a quarter of your wages go to fund the prison, free medical, guards at the airport/shops and police we the tax payers are paying for the criminals crime and its time for it to stop and make the criminals pay.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Death penalty

  3. Anonymous says:

    The current prison is a university campus where the only subject is crime and the only extra-curricular activities are terrorizing non-violent offenders, running the gangs from inside the prison, and smoking ganja.

    We need a new prison where violent criminals are locked up 23 hrs a day and where at least until the last 12 months of their sentence they speak to no one but prison officials and police. That is the only way we will break up the gang control of the prison and the streets. As a bonus, perhaps if these gang bangers knew that they would not see any of other gang bangers for years they might be more willing to cooperate with the police in exchange for reduced sentences.
    If we did that then Northward could focus on rehabilitation of non-violent offenders and those coming up to release.

    • Anonymous says:

      Solitary confinement would stop criminal scum mixing with other criminal scum. If them getting to know each other is the problem that is the problem sorted right there. Keep them like battery farmed chickens.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Here is my take on this …. XXXXX is going to get the contract to build the new prison leading to more Caymanians having their lives thrown away in the prison system. Of course the big boys who are all shareholders in the Security Center will benefit as always from the suffering of Caymanians as they make that $70k per head it takes to keep a prisoner per year. The master plan is well in the works!

  5. Bonnie Anglin says:

    To 29/06/2017 at 11:26am. Can you provide some links to the evidence that proves, or even suggest, that criminality is hard wired? I am really interested to find this as so far EVERY credible research that I have read has shown that there is no such correlation. So please ….. share this evidence and research.

    • Anonymous says:

      There is a tremendous body of research consistent with this now. For example a brain scan of a criminal can now predict recidivism far more accurately than a parole officer can.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Too many experts on those government boards and NGO’s who believe more money is the answer to solving the Islands problems. All the money and tailored facilities in the world will not solve a single problem if the individual(s) do not accept they have a problem and then work tirelessly to becoming a productive individual and family member. What did we get from the programs when the prison was less than 50%, 30% 15% occupied? More recidivism and more request for $$$$$as from the public purse. Can someone ask those experts if it was your money what would you do differently to achieve the results you are seeking. We need a bit more common sense mixed in with those experts, of course that will be frowned at. By common sense i’m not talking about persons who attend meetings and choose to remain silent because of being afraid of what others will say or think. We can all learn from each other if we just humbly accept our differences. Most inventors were not A students just hard working and committed to what they believed in with the knowledge they have limited resources. They then hired the experts to work for them. We as a people have to insist, to get value for money and a plan that results can be measured in a specific time frame. We know it is the 21st century but criminals are no different now than they were in the 1st. the challenges are all the same, some mental, lazy, slow, just plain evil with no desire to be a person of integrity and whatever happens to them it is always someone else fault. The challenges of today are no more challenging to us than the difficulties to others of centuries pass, if anything it is easier as we can stay here and watch what others are doing world wide through technology. Value for money a must, have a honest local assessment of where we went wrong over the last 30 years, most Caymanians and long term residents can tell you if you are willing to listen. It will be painful though, the truth hurts. Let’s get it out into the open and move ahead with a plan that will work, exhaust all current resources to the full potential, hold all accountable before any request for capital expenditure.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Better, bigger jail and school buildings will not make better, smarter Caymanians.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The sad fact is that the young people of this country see no future for them, they’re unemployed with parents struggling to make ends meet and no hope in sight for things to get any better. So someone approaches them and offers them money to sell marijuana or take part in a robbery or the like, so they take up the offer in order to live and take care of themselves. Crime will increase due to the above stated facts, so we need to make the necessary changes in order for young Caymanians to have some sense of belonging and worth. We are outcast in our own country. I wonder if the Govt has any idea of how many of us have had to leave our Island for England in order to be able to provide for ourselves and our families? This is a national disgrace and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Wake up Caymanians, we are going to hell in a hand basket and our Govt has their heads buried in the sand of Seven Mile Beach.

    • Anonymous says:

      Pathetic apologist. There is nowhere easier to make it or be employed In the world than the Cayman Islands. Criminals are simply lazy, selfish and have poor morals. There is no economic defence or excuse for such types.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Have the prisoners build the new prison to cut the costs!

  10. Anonymous says:

    It makes me sick at times to read the comments in this publication. The majority of the public who comment here must be pastors or persons who have never made a mistake in their lives. Until, God forbid, you have experienced prison, or a family member has you will never understand that its not by any stretch of the imagination a glorious holiday as some may think. This is the prime reason we have so much recidivism, ie the public refuses to give people a chance once they have a criminal record. These persons need to eat, need a place to stay and alot of times have a family who needs their support. Most times they are not given a chance therefore, more often so that not, they HAVE to resort to their old habits to take care of themselves, which lands them back in the system. The Government must take a look at what is happening here and make an effort to remedy this problem or we will have an Island of lawlessness, more than we have seen in recent times.

    • Anonymous says:

      I would rather they were locked up for longer in solitary. Criminals are evil, selfish and lazy. Do not blame others for that.

  11. Anonymous says:

    At age 20 most of our hardened criminals were first locked away in Northward for doing what almost all of our resident partners, directors, and management were doing at the same age in university, back in their home countries – smoking marijuana.

    It pains me the way we have inhumanely scarred our society and ripped apart Caymanian families and communities via our ridiculous approach to the consumption of marijuana.

    Anyway, I agree with the prison director. I also hope our prison is finally relocated to one of the sister islands in a modern facility, complete with capabilities to support internet and tech connections to our criminal court proceedings.

    The societal benefits from these features alone will justify the cost of the relocation.

    – Who

    *That being said, it also wouldn’t hurt to reduce the rate of disenfranchisement of Caymanians by way of our shortsighted governmental policies e.g. lack of education and training, importation of slave labour, absence of on-island abortion services, etc.

    Just sayin …

    • Anonymous says:

      How and who brings the ganja to Cayman is the difference. This is one of the busiest narcotic transshipment corridors on the planet with high-value cargo generally moving north and to established cartel land routes to the west. Those many here that smoke the herb have falsely-legitimized this trade route (including police and politicians) by turning a blind eye to what was really coming in on those boats. The denial continues.

    • Anonymous says:

      Solitary confinement is the answer to the problem identified by this post. Not the pathetic apologise that creeps in at the end. Although I’d agree on the positive effect of abortion reform on long term crime rates.

      • Anonymous says:

        Thank you for your input.
        Your comments are precisely as I imagined.

        People like you need professional help … or maybe to go join a pointy hat convention.

        – Who

        • Anonymous says:

          Who is often an apologist for plenty of West Bay gang criminals who he likes to portray as misunderstood good kids.

    • Anonymous says:

      Relocation to the Sister Islands is a great idea. Help is needed for their economy.

  12. Anonymous says:

    govt na making work permit fees by hiring caymanians???? that may be part of the problem of caymanians not finding jobs? si they seem to be getting more and more in crime??

  13. Anonymous says:

    cayman society falling apart…rich getting richer and poor getting inxarcerated for petty crimes…so sad?

  14. Anonymous says:

    What are the PPM doing about de-criminalizing ganja? I bet we don’t hear about that again for another 4 years ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

  15. Anonymous says:

    An expert giving his opinion confirming that which Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons has said for years.

    Stand by for ill-informed comments from all the Old Testament nutters who demand longer sentences and more subhuman conditions. (Completely failing to realize that this will just lead to more crime.)

  16. Anonymous says:

    A large number of our Caymanian inmates are drug addicts where rehabilitation will sadly not work.

  17. Advice says:


    Decriminalize Marajuana

    Then you will have more space for hard core criminals. Simple!

  18. Anonymous says:

    An alarmingly high percentage of adult Caymanian lives are spent occupying that facility. Law enforcement should probably double or triple capacity if we are going to attempt a credible interruption in the transshipment economy.

    • Rod says:

      Wait one minute…….. Are we in the Cayman Islands? right!!!!! Then that would explain all the people in prison.

  19. Therese says:

    Immediately deport all non-Caymanians and those who gained Caymanian status but now have a criminal record back to their original home country. Even if we have to pay for the one-way airline ticket, we will surely be rid of at least 50% of the current prison population and reduce costs.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Get Dart to build one at Camana Bay, seems like a good compromise for relocating the dump in BT. Trash for Trash.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Cayman is too small for rehabilitation. You can’t run or hide from your past and you get sucked back into your old surroundings and peer groups.

    It would also be nice to hear for a change what Government should be doing to allow victims of crime to move past the trauma they experienced. Is Government going to pay for their counseling etc?

  22. Anonymous says:

    Whatever you think about rehabilitation, we need a bigger jail–twice as big. Warehousing criminals is an important aspect of fighting crime. Please do not import any Swedish crime fighting theories.

  23. telmedat says:

    Prisoners should all be sent where they can be dealt with proper rehab is for those who honestly wants that change schools are for teaching so are church’s for the willing to learn so why does the guilty gets the praise.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Rehabilitiation while in prison is a waste of money and based on the honourable but mispalced believe that people can change. The lags just sign up to programmes in jail get out early with no intention of changing. Those that want to reform can sing up to programmmes when they are released but for the most part that will have no effect on recidivism either. The evidence is overwhelming that criminality is hard-wired and usually incurable.

    Those with drink or drugs problems may be the exception if they can get clean on the inside as their addiction is sometimes the primary driver for criminality.

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