December 5, 2020


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Canadian justice experts carry out Northward study

(R) PIE Assistant Deputy Officer Eric Bush addresses participants

A Canadian-led team of justice-system experts and local officials will next week recommend solutions to chronic problems in Cayman’s prisons.

Two Canadian officials, Alberta’s Provincial Deputy Chief Judge Alan Lefever and Assistant Deputy Minister of Ontario’s Youth Justice Services JoAnn Miller-Reid — from the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) — will next week complete their  “Assessment of Rehabilitation Needs”, a 45-day study of Cayman’s prisons and rehabilitation services.

The study, on behalf of the Cabinet Office and the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs, will determine why so many released prisoners remain in the criminal-justice system, often returning to jail, and how a limited budget can be spent most efficiently to remedy the problem.

The study will be completed in mid-December, and the subsequent  “Implementation Plan” published in January, said Kathryn Dinspel-Powell, Deputy Chief officer in the sponsoring Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs.

“We’ll go through the consultation” she said, meeting with private companies and individuals also participating in the $32,000 study, “and develop the goals and objectives within the lines recommended.”

The Canadians, she said, would remain as advisers for a year, helping oversee the changes.

“A lot of people in the departments and organisations” under study “will have ideas about what is needed and how best to help”, she said, offering “a halfway house in every district” as an ideal – if impractical — goal.

“For now, we are trying to manage with diminished resources, finding what agencies and where those resources can be channeled for maximum effect, what the programmes are within the community, how to get the biggest bang for our buck. Are we addressing the real problems? What is best practice?”

Government budgets $14 million per year, 4% of recurrent expenses, for prisons, and with one of the largest per-capita incarceration rates in the world, faces a growing crisis.

Alberta, she said, had had success with some of its programmes: “Other places have had similar problems, and we will have to tailor anything here”. Local programmes “will have to be flexible and culturally sensitive,” but the study would offer “base-line figures”, and how “best practice and evidence-based” treatments could cut re-offending.

Ms Dinspel-Powell was reluctant to describe re-offending rates, but clarified some of the local problems.

“You have to look at severity and frequency,” she said. “Is it re-offending to go from, say, crimes against people such as aggravated bodily harm or grievous bodily harm, versus, say loitering?

“You have to look at the quality of offenses and the people involved. Have they completed courses, done vocational training? Do they have a job? How is their family life? Have they repaired their relationships with their children? With the community?”

The IPAC officials arrived on 28 November after “one month, a month-and-a-half” of background research at home, and have already met a handful of government departments and private organisations, Ms Dinspel-Powell said.

She listed some of the private organisations involved: “The University College of the Cayman Islands; the Wellness Centre, who are also involved in the Passport 2 Success programme; the Cayman Ministers Association, who have been instrumental in this; the Prison Ministry; the Hope for Today Foundation; we are meeting the CAYS Foundation; The Business and Professional Women’s Club; the Chamber of Commerce; and the Cayman Contractors Association,” she said.

Government departments involved include the probation and community rehabilitation offices, the Department of Counseling Service and even the Health Services Authority’s public and mental health sections.

She said the long-sought construction of a new prison to replace Northward, built piecemeal at various times since the early 80s, remained a distant hope.

“I really don’t know. There are starting places for each department, but capital construction often competes with funding for rehabilitation programmes,” Ms Dinspel-Powell said.

Additionally, recent demands by London’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office for financial returns on capital projects suggests any new prison is unlikely.

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