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The Editor Speaks: A good man leaves

I have to confess, when Neil Lavis arrived here from the UK to take up his job as Director of Her Majesty’s Cayman Islands Prison Service, I didn’t think he would last twelve months.

He not only had to battle with the challenging job of dealing with criminals, but the government who would not spend anything like the amount required to upgrade the two prisons we have here.

Successive reports from the UK’s Inspector of HM Prisons have blasted the country’s officials here for allowing the very poor conditions both at Northward and Fairbanks.

Lavis, immediately got to work, and we could soon see the improvements he introduced.

I think we all were pleased when he accepted a new contract to remain the head for another four years. It came, therefore, as a big shock, to hear yesterday he had resigned for reasons that have not to date been disclosed.

In a Government Press Release it has extolled all the work he has achieved:

“During his tenure, he introduced several new policies and procedures to improve the standard of service delivery at both facilities. In the recent budget exercise he successfully secured funding for the hire of 19 new prison officers and to begin the design process for a new Prison facility.

“Mr. Lavis implemented the Release on Temporary License (ROTL) programme which 24 inmates have taken part in to date. The scheme aims to develop critical life and job skills for prisoners by exposing them to the “real world” prior to their release.

“As the prison director he was also appointed to run the Immigration Detention Centre (IDC), where he established policies and procedures to ensure the proper care and protection of detainees.

“Mr. Lavis improved stakeholder relationships and engineered Memoranda of Understanding (MOU’s) with critical partners such as the Department of Community Rehabilitation (DCR), Health Services Authority (HSA), the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (RCIPS) and other stakeholder agencies.

“He was part of a specialist team selected by Ministry officials to travel to Trinidad earlier this year to take part in a CARICOM working group geared towards the development of a Regional Anti-Terrorism Strategy.

“During his tenure he has supported the implementation of several rehabilitation programmes within both facilities, geared towards breaking the cycle of re-offending by assessing the specific needs of inmates and offering targeted interventions, in collaboration with stakeholder agencies.

“An example is the Sycamore Tree Project which was introduced in January 2016 which provides inmates with an outlet to reflect on the effects of their crimes and make amends.

“Earlier this year Mr. Lavis established the Fresh Start: Vocational Training Programme, which is a partnership with several private sector construction companies that teaches inmates the skills required to obtain a job in the industry.

“In July 2017 he helped introduce the concept of a Tannery and Leather Craft Workshop at the prison, which, once its up and running, will provide inmates with marketable skills and an opportunity to supply their handmade crafts to a local shop.

“The Prison Community Work Party initiative has also been brought online and this allows inmates to clean up various communities throughout the island by removing graffiti, picking up garbage and generally keeping the districts litter-free.

“Last month he helped launch a cosmetology training course at the Fairbanks facility’s salon providing a pathway for professional make-up training for interested inmates. Mr. Lavis is credited for establishing several other initiatives and treatment programmes to help prisoners lead law abiding and useful lives in custody and after release.

“He was also committed to the professional development of his staff to ensure they were equipped to continue to improve the processes and systems currently in place. In August 2017 he supported 12 staff members who travelled to the United Kingdom (UK) for training geared towards upskilling correctional staff in Overseas Territories.”

You can read the whole Release in today’s iNews Cayman, along with many images of his work.

On the Inside Jobs website it explains what Prison Directors do:

Prisons have two goals: keep dangerous criminals off the streets and promote rehabilitation. Not everyone can be rehabilitated, but for every unrepentant offender, several others feel sorry for their crimes and want to change. Prison Directors walk the line between firm discipline and forgiveness to make prisons as efficient as possible.

Every day is a balancing act if you’re a Prison Director. The prison runs on limited funding, and you’re always short on staff and updated security systems. The Accountant in you comes out to ensure that everyone has a bed and clothing, while keeping security as current as possible and seeing that you have the staff required to manage so many people.

Once the basics are taken care of, the Prison Director focuses on the inmates themselves. You’re the Supervisor, and it’s up to you to handle complaints and promote new rehabilitation methods. Choosing disciplinary methods for inmates who act out, and planning a new prison library are two of many things that could land on a Prison Director’s to-do list.

Then there’s your staff to manage in addition to your inmates. Scheduling enough people on duty for each shift, running background checks on new employees, and recruiting the best Psychologists and Prison Guards all play a role in running a successful prison. Though it comes with a lot of rules to uphold, the end result is a safer society.


And I thought I had a heavy work load.

A good man is going. Thank you Mr Lavis for what you have achieved here. And many blessings wherever you go and to your family.


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