November 25, 2020

The Editor Speaks: Damning and shameful report on Cayman’s prisons

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Colin Wilsonweb1**. “I think that it is unfortunate that the plans for building a Secure Remand Unit for juveniles at HMP FAIRBANKS are stalled for lac k of money, because they represent an opportunity to challenge the needs and problems of these young offenders, which are complex and demanding.  Establishments such as the Marine Institute have a role to play in a juvenile justice system, as does the young prisoner wing at HMP NORTHWARD.  Therefore I recommend that the proposals being considered by the Youth Commission should include an assessment of the need for various custodial arrangements for juveniles and young offenders, which should be included in the overall development plan.”

“Before moving on to consider HMP NORTHWARD I must voice my concern about another activity in which the prison staff are involved, namely court escort and protection.  I inspected the cells at the courts, which are wholly inadequate for their task.  It is unfortunate that the volume of court work has risen so greatly, that courts are forced to sit in buildings other than the purpose designed Central Court House, which is now far too small, and is, itself, subject to deferred replacement due to lack of funds.  At present a number of prison staff are required to stand in courts while they are in session in addition to those responsible for guarding those awaiting trial. This takes them away from their tasks in the prison, which in turn impacts on the ability of the prison to provide supervised purposeful activity for prisoners, which undoubtedly was a major cause of the riot.  It is unfortunate too that prisoners under escort, and in handcuffs, have to be taken from the cells to the additional courts, through crowds of cruise ship visitors, as well as being moved, around the Court House itself, in full view of all those passing by.  I recommend that consideration be given to removing prison staff from all responsibilities for protecting courts, requiring them only to guard those appearing in court, and that ways of avoiding the parading of handcuffed prisoners in public be investigated.”

2**. “The commitment of the Cayman government to the construction of a new facility to provide young people in the criminal justice system services separate from adults is a key component of a more effective intervention strategy. All are in agreement that placing youth on remand or after having been sentenced in a unit that is shared with adult offenders due to overcrowding impacts the youth in a very negative way.

“Stakeholders consistently expressed concern over operating a combined facility for young people in the criminal justice system and young persons who required protection. Many stakeholders expressed the view that this combination simply provided the young persons requiring protection with an opportunity to form relationships and learn behaviours and attitudes which would lead them into criminal activity.

RECOMMENDATION 8: Incorporate into the planning of the new facility the capacity to provide service to youth requiring protection separate from youth who are offending.”


“Stakeholders expressed concern about a lack of transparency related to the operation of the prison. This is contributing to concern about the effective operation of the facility as well as to a belief that mistreatment of offenders is not addressed and staff are not held accountable for inappropriate behaviour.

“A number of stakeholders provided examples of concern around excessive use of force, inappropriate use of strip searches, arbitrary decision making, administration of medicine to mentally ill inmates, and an ineffective complaint process. This is contributing to a lack of confidence in the management of the prison. Although we are not able to speak to the accuracy of the concerns, the fact that these concerns are voiced by a variety of stakeholders means that at the very least action needs to be taken to increase public confidence in the administration of the facility.

RECOMMENDATION 42: The Prisons Inspection Board should have unrestricted authority and ability to inspect prisons at any time without any prior notice to prisonofficials. Any barriers to such unrestricted inspection should be immediately removed.

RECOMMENDATION 43: No prison officer should accompany the Prisons Inspection Board on its inspection. If there are any legitimate security concerns at any time then these need to be addressed to permit safe access.”

The Mission and Vision of HM Cayman Islands Prison Service. The Vision appears to reflect a commitment to rehabilitation:

We will provide a safe secure and controlled environment for both staff and prisoners. We will provide regimes that are workable, culturally applicable, which will address offending behaviour, improve education, work skills and the development of civic pride, giving prisoners the opportunity to prepare for their return to the community.

“Prison practices should mirror the Vision and Mission Statement of the institution. In this respect, many submissions we received reflected the view that practice at both institutions was much more consistent with the custodial expression within the Core Business than with rehabilitative initiatives. In that regard, it appeared to us that the practices at both Northward and Fairbanks were overwhelmingly directed to “keeping prisoners in custody”. To this point resources to provide rehabilitation programs through qualified prison staff appear to receive little if any real support.

“We have had an opportunity to review the HMCIPS Strategic Plan for 20122016 and although it includes the following objective “Increase the rehabilitative services available to prisoners”, it does not contain a plan to achieve this goal.

“It is our opinion that the Strategic Plan for the period of 2012 to 2016 reflects the lack of leadership and authority within HMCIP in the area of Rehabilitation and Reintegration. Without that leadership and authority to implement, rehabilitation will continue to be provided in an ad hoc manner that is secondary to issues of physical security. This will inhibit the role that Prison Services needs to play in the Crime Prevention strategy as the opportunity to contribute to community safety by releasing rehabilitated prisoners will be lost and reoffending rates will continue at high levels.”

We have just received the Report on an announced inspection of HM Cayman Islands Prison Service 22-27 July 2012 by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.

The Press Release accompanying the Report is published as one of out Front Page Stories today.

**The opening statements in my Editorial numbered 1 and 2 were NOT from that Report.

# 1 was from a report by the HM Inspectorate of Northward and Fairbanks Prisons on Grand Cayman 25-30 March 2001 conducted by Sir David Ramsbotham HM Chief Inspector of Prisons.

# 2 was from a Review of the Assessment and Treatment of Criminal Offenders Cayman Islands Government conducted by IPAC – The Institute of Public Administration of Canada Nov 2011 – Jan 2012.

The latest one (July 2012) has shockingly shown that very little has changed and in fact has become worse.

TWELVE years later from #1 and successive governments have done very little in providing the necessary funds to remedy anything. In fact a lot of the recommendations that were given in the IPAC Report and would have cost very little to implement were ignored. But this is a recent report – little over a year – and it takes time.

We have a copy of the complete report and after a request we were kindly given the photographs that initially were not included owing to their size but we have not been given permission to repost them. The photographs give more weight to the Reports damning findings.

Items from the Report and not in the Press Release:

Journeys to the prison were short and the transport used was basic but clean. Many prisoners’ property did not arrive with them. Owing to the absence of locked cells in the vans and the poor security at the court, most prisoners were handcuffed during the journey. In addition to this, category A and escape-risk male prisoners were required to wear shackles around their ankles which were chained to handcuffs, and we considered this to be excessive and was disproportionate to the risk posed.

Both of the reception areas were clean and processes were efficient. The information arriving with prisoners was limited and reception assessments did not address aspects of vulnerability. The health care assessment was inadequate and did not take place on the day of arrival.  Prisoners did not get immediate access to the prison shop and were not provided with interim reception packs. There was no dedicated first night accommodation and the personal interview with new prisoners did not sufficiently address vulnerability or safety. Most male prisoners did not feel safe on their first night. There was a comprehensive induction presentation but it was not delivered immediately after arrival.

Prisoners did not feel safe at Northward. They reported high levels of victimisation from other prisoners and staff. No attempt was made to identify, analyse or measure the levels of violence or extent of victimisation and bullying in order to reduce levels of violence and improve safety.

Approximately a third of male prisoners said that they had felt depressed or suicidal on their arrival but screening for risk did not take place. Levels of self-harm were low but monitoring arrangements for those at risk were inadequate and ineffective. Some at-risk prisoners were inappropriately located in segregated conditions.

There was no incentives and earned privileges system.

Adjudication procedures were weak, the general quality of paperwork was poor and punishments were largely unregulated and harsh. Use of force procedures were poor and unmonitored, and staff training had ceased. Segregation arrangements were dreadful and lacked any effective governance.

There was no immediate or ongoing clinical treatment for prisoners with substance misuse issues arriving at either Northward or Fairbanks. In the survey, 24% of men had had a problem with drugs and 13% with alcohol on arrival at Northward, and a further 13% said that they had developed a problem with illegal drugs while at the establishment.

Prisoner accommodation at Northward was poor and some was appalling. The fabric of the buildings was dilapidated and the cage-like cells were dark, stifling and oppressive. Cleanliness was poor and prisoners had little privacy. Most accommodation was unfit for human habitation. The accommodation at Fairbanks was better but was also dingy, decrepit and oppressively hot.

Cellular accommodation on A to E wings was cage-like, and prisoners were often required to share cells fit only for one. Many prisoners used blankets and sheets as makeshift screens to provide some degree of privacy. Some had placed plastic sheeting on their ceilings to prevent the falling of rust particles from the structure and the ingress of water. The dormitory on A wing was overcrowded and dirty and was also full of makeshift blanket partitions. In-cell toilets were

filthy and unscreened. Cell windows were layered with bars and screens and afforded little natural light. The wings were dark and intimidating. There was no air conditioning in either the communal areas or the cells. The heat and atmosphere were oppressive and particularly unacceptable given that the staff offices in the same buildings were air conditioned. Most prisoners had rickety and potentially dangerous fans in their cells. Living conditions on A and D wings and the high-risk unit (HRU) were particularly appalling.

The quality of staff–prisoner relationships was poor. Many prisoners, in particular Caymanian prisoners, did not feel that they were treated respectfully or fairly and that staff applied rules inconsistently. The interpersonal skills of staff were poor. The assigned officer scheme had little impact or value.

There was little awareness or perception among managers or staff of creating an environment which confronted discrimination, promoted equitable outcomes for prisoners and fostered good relationships. The different characteristics of the prison population had not been considered, so there were no systems to address their needs. Most Caymanian prisoners reported more negatively than other nationals about their treatment and other elements of prison life but there was no consultation with prisoners.

A specialist wing for juveniles and young offenders was no longer available because of overcrowding. As a result, children and young offenders shared accommodation with adult prisoners. The inspectors  found evidence of male juveniles put at risk of predatory sexual behaviour and recruitment into gangs. The regime was not specific to the needs of juveniles and young offenders and there was a lack of case conferencing or involvement of the Department of Children and Family Services. Wing files were uninformative and staff had not received any recent training in working with juveniles/young offenders or child protection.

There was no monitoring of religion and we had no assurance that faith provision catered for the needs of all the population. There were good links with faith communities on the island and a selection of services were provided daily but almost exclusively for Christian prisoners. Some groups of prisoners were denied access to services because of their location and new prisoners were not routinely seen or given information on chaplaincy services.

There was a comprehensive complaints policy. Complaint forms were freely available on residential units but there were no posting boxes or systems to support confidentiality. The number of complaints made was low and prisoners had little confidence in the system. The responses to complaints which that were examined were reasonable but some had not been finalised. There was no facility for complaint to an independent body.

There were no staff trained and assigned to provide legal advice, and legal information in the library was out of date. The handling of legally privileged mail was inconsistent. Legal visits were freely available.


There was only one general and mental health-trained nurse, who provided services to prisoners at both Northward and Fairbanks. He worked from 8am until 4.30pm, from Monday to Friday, and was clearly overwhelmed by the volume of work; as a result, he rarely left his clinic at Northward, except to travel to Fairbanks or the hospital in George Town. In effect, he was the physical and mental health nurse, pharmacist, practice manager, administration clerk and porter. He had little support from senior managers in the HSA and no clinical supervision

The inspectors found the clinic at Northward to be cramped, shambolic and not fit for purpose. The layout of the room was poor. There was a ‘working trolley’ (that was untidy, and it was unclear what it was used for, and the tap was broken on the inadequate hand-wash sink. There were unlocked cupboards containing a range of items, including syringes, needles and intravenous fluids. The medicines cupboard was untidy and was unlocked when patients were in the room. The storage of clinical records was poor. The clinical room at Fairbanks was larger but in a similar state. In both rooms, infection control measures were inadequate, with both having dirty, unsterile cloth privacy screens.

Most prisoners arrived in the late afternoon, by which time the nurse had often left Northward for the day, so it was rare for any prisoner at either establishment to be seen by the nurse on their day of arrival.

Clinical records were deficient. There was a paper record for each prisoner of the care they had received in the prison but it was not contemporaneous because any care provided by the hospital, including test results, was recorded onto the HSA’s electronic clinical record system and not in the paper record. These records were stored in a wooden cupboard, which was locked when the nurse was absent, but the keys were easily obtainable. The nurse could access the electronic system to obtain test results but not for anything else

Medicines management was appalling. At Northward, stock medicines were mostly kept in a metal filing cabinet, which was unlocked when prisoners were in the room. The drugs storage cupboard at Northward was untidy and overstocked. Emergency medicines were stored in a plastic box, in which we found some loose ampoules. The nurse was responsible for stock control. Relevant pharmacy reference materials were out of date; the HSA formulary was dated 2004, while the current edition had been published in 2007. The temperature of the drugs refrigerator was not checked to ensure that the medicines in it were stored correctly.

Few reintegration plans were undertaken. Too many male prisoners said that they did not know whom to turn to for help and few felt prepared for release. Support with finding accommodation before release or addressing money and debt problems was lacking. Work to promote family ties was limited and visits provision, systems and facilities were inadequate. Offender behaviour programme provision had been increased but the type of programmes delivered was not based on a needs assessment and too few sex offender treatment programmes were delivered to meet demand, resulting in prisoners waiting too long or being released without accessing one.

Inadequate attention was given to protecting the public, staff and other prisoners. There was no formal system for exchanging information or making plans to manage the risk of harm.

A system had recently been introduced whereby prisoners presenting a specific risk to female staff were identified on a board in the shift commander’s office; however, little else was done to examine and manage these risks and we were not convinced that they had been made explicit to female staff.

The Inspectors also found examples of unmanaged risk. In one example, a prisoner convicted of sexual abuse against a child was in regular contact with the victim’s mother, without any assessment or management of the risks that this potentially presented. There was no mechanism for multiagency exchange of information to explore the potential for further abuse or implement plans to minimise the risks.

Involvement in sentence planning was voluntary and too many prisoners opted out, leaving them with no assessment of risk and need and no structured plan to manage their time in custody. Assessment of prisoners was partial and lacked attention to the likelihood of reoffending and risk of harm to others. Prisoners felt involved in setting the action plan but too many plans lacked a focus on their offending behaviour. The case coordinator role was promising but their contact with prisoners was limited and too often was superficial. There were no formal public protection arrangements, and failures in the categorisation processes meant that some prisoners were improperly restricted and left feeling confused. Parole processes were adequate but not always timely. Life-sentenced prisoners had no opportunity for parole and received little specific or meaningful resettlement support during their time in custody.

There was little strategic management of rehabilitation, as provision was not informed by a comprehensive needs analysis and there was no strategy or action plan to direct work in either prison. Joint working between the criminal justice agencies was poor, as was access to rehabilitation services during custody. The lack of unescorted release on temporary licence further limited opportunities for prisoners to prepare for release.

The gym at Northward was popular and well equipped. Access was equitable. Facilities for the women at Fairbanks were poor and there were no sessions supervised by a trained instructor

The library at Northward was open on weekday mornings and afternoons but not during the evenings or at weekends. It was centrally located in a fairly spacious, air-conditioned room and wing access to it was timetabled throughout the week. The large stock of books had been well organised by two prisoner orderlies, supported by a volunteer, but the entire stock had been donated and had not been selected to meet the needs and interests of prisoners. Many of the books were old, as were the few reference materials and magazines. There were no current legal reference materials and no easy readers, large-print or audio books, dictionaries or textbooks suitable to support education classes. Good records of loans and returns were kept

but few prisoners made regular use of the library, other than to relax, cool down and chat. Typically, only around a dozen books were borrowed from the library each day. Some prisoners had free access to the library during opening hours, while those who needed to be escorted had access during timetabled wing periods. Prisoners told us that they could spend only a short time in the library, making it difficult to use the few reference materials. The noisy and overcrowded wing conditions made reading difficult outside of the library environment.

There were insufficient activity places to meet prisoners’ needs, and even these were not fully utilised. At Northward, there were around 45 places in education but no accredited workrelated vocational training.

The planning and management of learning, skills and work activities were inadequate. They were uncoordinated and lacked coherence. Lines of accountability and responsibility were unclear. There was no routine assessment of provision, performance or quality to evaluate the extent to which prisoners’ needs were being met. Information about the achievement of qualifications and attendance in education classes was collected but data were not analysed or used to make judgements about quality or to plan provision. Daily lists of allocation to work were produced but these did not always provide an accurate picture of purposeful activity. No routine, formal observations of education and training were carried out to develop and improve provision or to share good practice. The prison had not produced a quality improvement plan for learning and skills and work activities. A recent external review of the service had been carried out and an action plan produced. Implementation was loosely planned for autumn 2012 but precise timelines were, as yet, unclear.

Prisoners spent long periods unlocked and out of their cells, and those at Northward had reasonable access to the open air. However, arrangements at Fairfield were needlessly restrictive. Most prisoners had nothing meaningful to do. Time unlocked arrangements for prisoners in the high-risk unit were unacceptable.

The quality, quantity and presentation of food at both Northward and Fairbanks were poor. Prisoners preparing food were untrained in basic food hygiene and we observed some dangerous food preparation procedures.


There was minimal mental health care provision. There were no primary mental services, even though the nurse was qualified in mental health. A consultant psychiatrist visited the prison monthly; at the time of the inspection he had a caseload of 10 men and one woman.


In the survey, a quarter of the men at Northward said that they had emotional well-being or mental health problems (this included 39% of those held on the High Risk Unit).

During the inspection, the consultant saw seven men in 1.5 hours at Northward, including a new referral from the prison psychologist. The latter young man had expressed suicidal ideation and had been moved to ‘basic’ on A wing as a consequence. During the consultation he stated, ‘I just want someone to talk to. Being on basic is making it worse – no fresh air, no light’.

Another prisoner, who had previously self-harmed and had been on basic for several years in a cell with no light and nothing to do, spent less than three minutes with the consultant and appeared ‘drugged’. The consultant told us that he had not seen any of the prison accommodation and would have been unaware of the potential impact of such conditions on well-being.

iNews will be executing more articles on this latest report. See article in today’s iNews “Prison security at Northward and Fairbanks deficient says latest report”. It makes uncomfortable reading.

Our prisons are a disgrace to a country that prides itself on justice, religion, education, welfare, respect and standards well above the third world mentality. Clearly, when it comes to prison welfare, it is not.

Many of the problems highlighted in the Report were made TWELVE years ago and the very simple and basic recommendations made just a year ago should have and could have been implemented with very little, if any, cost to the public purse.

I am pleased that The Cayman Islands Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs (PI&EA) has replied positively to the Report and have said “Their conclusions dovetail with those of experts from the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge in summer 2011, and a report by the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC)” – this is the report I quoted from in #2. The Chief Officer for PI&EA noted that challenges remain to comprehensively address the key areas outlined in the report, in particular the need for a substantial investment in capital during economically austere times.  Yet by the inspector’s next visit, he says the Portfolio expects that the Prison will not receive a rating of “poor” in any of the four key areas.

Please see story in iNews today “Statement by Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs on the HMIP Report of the Prison Service”

However, The UK’s Guardian has already the story “Prison inspectors ‘shocked’ by conditions in Cayman Islands jails” following the Report having been published in London – see Guardian story also in iNews today.

So once again we have another story in the UK (and probably the World’s press) that is detrimental to our already tarnished image.

Shameful. Damning. And it lies clearly at the door of the Deputy Governor to get it rectified now. We do not want any more reports that say exactly the same thing. We want ACTION! PDQ!!! Otherwise Mr Eric Bush will have to eat his words and the whole country gets sued by the prison inmates.

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