Mental health ‘grave concern’ at prisons

| 01/02/2021 | 27 Comments
Cayman News Service
HMP Northward

(CNS): The mental health needs of prisoners at HMP Northward and HMP Fairbanks must be addressed urgently, according to a report published by a group of volunteers. The first report of the Cayman Islands Independent Monitoring Board, based on 369 visits conducted in 2019, raised “grave concerns” about the lack of provision for the significant number of inmates with serious mental health problems as well as for the young offenders that are being held.

The Cayman Islands Independent Monitoring Board (CIIMB), an independent group of lay volunteers established to be the “eyes and ears” of the general public inside the prisons and detention centres, was formed at the beginning of 2019 and began its work in February of that year.

In the report on the work done during CIIMB’s first year, the volunteers raised many concerns about the state of the prison facility, the mixing of juvenile inmates with adults, and above all the serious failings when it comes to dealing with the many mental health problems of prisoners, which in several cases have never been formally diagnosed.

The volunteers said that this was not only an issue for the prisoners themselves but also the safety of their fellow inmates and officers working in the prison, who have little or no training to handle these prisoners.

The report, which is now a public document, raised the ongoing problems about the terrible dilapidated state of the prison, the poor lighting, ventilation, overcrowding, security problems, infestations of roaches and rodents, lack of facilities for the disabled, as well as complaints of officers bullying prisoners and escalating volatile situations.

The volunteers were particularly concerned about the lack of an adequate wing for vulnerable prisoners in either the men’s facility at Northward or the women’s prison at Fairbanks, which means that many prisoners with mental health issues or those vulnerable due to the type of crime committed are incarcerated with the general prison population.

Given the severe mental health problems of some prisoners, the board warned that they pose a threat not only to themselves but also to others, and with no dedicated wing they are often housed in the high security wing, which is inappropriate, or among the general overcrowded wings.

“Many of these prisoners seem to require specialized treatment, which the prison staff is unable to provide,” the board noted in the report.

In response, the Ministry of Home Affairs said the issue was under review by a cross-sectoral, multidisciplinary team.

“The Director of Prisons, during late 2019 commissioned a strategic level review of the current mental health service resources and arrangements across the criminal justice and healthcare system,” the ministry officials stated. “The recommendations from that review have been circulated to relevant stakeholders, who are now considering the most appropriate methodology for implementing those that have been accepted.”

The ministry noted that “prison officers are not mental health specialists or practitioners” but as a routine part of their job, they work very closely with many individuals with a range of mental health issues and that the officers had all completed mental health awareness training. The ministry added that a second psychologist would be recruited during the first quarter of this year.

The long-standing problem of young offenders being housed in the adult jail was another issue that the board raised. However, the management response was not encouraging, as there seems to be no plan on the table to develop a specialist facility.

The ministry stated that while it accepts that juveniles should be held in facilities that are designed and purposed to meet their needs, the current segregation within the prison places limitations on the services for juveniles as they cannot access them alongside the adults.

“A wider and fundamental inter-ministerial policy discussion about Youth Justice is required. This would encompass discussion about the continuum of care and services for youth, which would include the consideration of viable alternatives to prison, amongst other things. An initial meeting with relevant stakeholders will be called in early 2021,” officials added.

The board said that juveniles do not have full access to structured support services, such as counselling, religious services, education and purposeful activities, during their time in custody because of the need to segregate them from the adult population. During the time that the report was being compiled there was one juvenile prisoner, who was receiving just two hours a week of school.

The board noted improvements at the prison by the end of 2019, such as the overall appearance of Northward, much-needed repairs and additional vocational training, but said that much work remains to be done. In its broad response to the report, government officials accepted that there are still problems in the prison system but maintained that they are working on them.

However, many of these issues, such as the state of the prison, the lack of proper provision for juvenile offenders and vulnerable prisoners with serious mental health problems, have been under discussion for more than a decade.

The current director of prisons, Steve Barrett, has echoed the sentiments of his predecessor about the clear need for a new prison facility but accepts that it is always one of the hardest public sector projects to sell to taxpayers.

But the lack of appropriate facilities and support for the men, women and children who are locked up by the judicial system makes it hard for the prison service to meet government policy objectives and human rights obligations. In turn, these issue have an impact on the high level of recidivism that Cayman continues to witness.

In a press release, Barrett welcomed the transparency that the independent report brought to the system. “Many of the issues contained within the report connect to the significant environmental challenges we face and which we are working through,” he said. “However, we do need to acknowledge that some aspects of our services need improvement and we will continue to nurture our extremely positive and collaborative partnership with the IMB to drive those improvements.”

Despite the difficulties, Barrett said the service was committed to upholding the human rights of prisoners. “The basis of our culture is fairness of treatment, the upholding of rights, respect for human dignity, provision of opportunity together with a focus on safety, security and public protection,” he said. “Many of those sent to prison have lifelong issues connected to addiction, mental ill-health, social deprivation and are imprisoned for offences ranging from minor to very serious.

“My staff are required to understand the factors that have shaped individual routes into prison and to work with them in ways which are purposeful and which drive improved outcomes for those in custody and for our communities. In that respect, we are on a journey,” Barrett added.

See the report in the CNS Library.

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Category: Crime, Prison

Comments (27)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Your observations are 100% correct 9:56am.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Interesting…is that the only “grave concern” at the prison? I think not!

    • Anonymous says:

      I would imagine that most people who commit crimes do have mental health issues. Please help them. Maybe even before the crime is committed.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Rehabilitation at the prison has improved dramatically in the last year.

    Excellent vocational courses are being taught at the prison.

    I wish to commended our prison officers. There work should never be unappreciated.

    Thank you to the Board members and the Ministry.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Build a new one in the Brac

  5. ELO says:

    The Director wants a facility which can help deliver the intervention that these inmates need but, when will Cayman realise that the money needs to be spent. You can’t rehabilitate in a cage.

    With the right surroundings his staff, with the help of healthcare professionals, can make a difference to the long term future. He is a good, decent man. Time to back his vision.

  6. Anonymous says:

    How old are these “juveniles”. If they are 16 that’s one thing, if they are 19 it’s another.

    • Anonymous says:

      They are all under 18 years of age. Once they turn 18 they are classed as adults and move into the adult population.

      • Anonymous says:

        They article says juveniles are in the adult population. Which is it?

        • Anonymous says:

          They are “supposed” to be segregated in their own wing, but this is not consistent and when using some services etc. there is no segregation as there is supposed to be.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Can we leave Thad in there permanently now? He’s had enough chances.

    • WBW Premier. says:

      We all know Thad has had a rough field to hoe. May compassion surround him to get him back on the right path. #dontthrowstones.

      • Anonymous says:

        Rough field? The guy was born with a platinum spoon in his mouth. Crack cocaine has ruined him and he has no interest in getting clean. He’s a lost cause.

        • Anonymous says:

          Obviously, the problem isn’t Thad but drug addiction. Maybe you could advocate for a better rehabilitation system or maybe you can volunteer to be the one who creates a strong support network for him. I doubt making a comment such as this is going to do him any good.

          Personally speaking, he’s one of the kindest, most respectful people I know and I hope that one day he gets it right. He deserves a great life. We all do.

  8. Anonymous says:

    lock someone in a cage and they will come out an animal.
    prison without rehabilitation is a recipe for disaster.

    • Anonymous says:

      Most went in as animals, it’s not all the prison’s fault. I’m all for the requested improvements but doubling the actual time served would also help Cayman’s crime problem.

      • Anonymous says:

        Well, other than the lack of empirical support for longer sentences either deterring crime or reducing reoffending, of course. Taking away any prospect of release within in a reasonable time is completely counterproductive, unless you want to create a large number of people even more disaffected and unable to cope in society than they were when they went in.

        But it’s easy to just label people as animals and shout for longer sentences as a cure for crime, so damn the facts.

        • Anonymous says:

          Except it keeps them off the street and out of my yard, car, house, store, etc. And I am not bothered calling them animals. Have you met them? The first one killed a cabdriver for no reason and spent less than 10 years in jail. How is this the best way forward. your ideas are not working as is plain to see.

  9. Junior says:

    I wonder if they recommended all the officers receive an award for working so hard in a twice condemned jail?
    I doubt it.
    Probably too concentrated on fault finding missions and shaming instead of commending hard work.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Prisoners need more classes and training. Anyone with a long sentence should come out with a diploma or classes to apply toward a college degree or vocational training- mandatory.

    A nice gym and an updated library would be beneficial. A clean living space- cockroaches ( disgusting) is a human right, IMO. The inmates are family members from the community.

    Caring for mental and emotional health during their sentence would seem to be beneficial now and in the future.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Anyone still think northward is a hotel?

    I commended the work of the Board. I have read the report. I am happy to see that for the first time the Government is actually moving forward with a plan to improve the conditions at the Prison.

    Thank you for transparency. A refreshing change.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Need to help young people that trying to behave themselves and trying to find jobs. Need trade schools. Not everyone can be lawyer, Manger or a computer wizard, but they can be taught to be Electricians. Plumblers, Vehicles mechanics, masons/Carpenters. Etc, everyone needs a start.

    • Anonymous says:

      “Not everyone can be a lawyer”. So true and in all countries. But the trouble is, going as far back as the seventies, too many of our children have been told by parents and unscrupulous and/or ignorant politicians that they can indeed be lawyers, even partners in major firms, because they were born here. Unfortunately they were unable to pass even basic exams. The “trades” you mention, 8:57, have been scorned since these early days as being for imported laborers, not we Caymanians. Hence, proposals for a Trades School have never gotten anywhere. One of the original functions of the Community College was for it to serve as a school for teaching trades but it never succeeded in this and now it is a university awarding degrees.

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