Legislators tackle prison overcrowding

| 02/03/2009

(CNS): The Acting Chief Secretary Donovan Ebanks told the Legislative Assembly on Friday that the early release of prisoners on license was an important interim measure for addressing the severe over crowding currently experienced in both of Cayman’s prisons. While the construction of a new prison at Northward was already underway Ebanks said that there was still a need to formalise and alter the existing law to release low risk prisoners on license in order to tackle the problem of too many inmates in too little space.


Seeking support to amend the existing Prison Bill, Ebanks in his role as acting chief secretary explained that the early release programme had been utilised for some time but the process needed to be formalized in law and extended to those serving less than three years to help meet the immediate need of reducing the prison population.

According to government statistics both prisons are currently overcrowded with Northward more than 40 percent over capacity. The situation is so severe at the men’s prison that adult male prisoners are currently being accommodated in the young offenders centre -Eagle House a situation that has raised considerable concern in the community and been condemned by the Human Rights Committee.

While the entire prison law is being re-drafted, alternative sentencing planned to be introduced and a new prison being constructed at the Northward site, all measures that will address the overcrowding issue the long term in the meantime prisoners at Northward are being house not only in an institution that is over capacity but in buildings that are increasingly dilapidated and in a severe state of disrepair.

Aware of the problems that can be caused by overcrowding and the pressures it put not just on prisoners but on prison management and maintaining security the need to reduce prison numbers Ebanks said was urgent.

He said there was a need to formalise the early release programme in law as quickly as possible so that more low risk prisoners could be released into the community.  Ebanks told the house how the system would work with the amendment explaining that most prisoners are entitled to be released after serving two thirds of their sentence provided they comply with the good behaviour regulations.

The early release programme would come into effect before the usual parole date and would allow prisoners who have behaved well and not considered a major risk to be released after serving just over one third of their sentences. He said at present the law allowed for this to happen with prisoners who had been sentenced to three years or more but not those with shorter sentences  and hence the need to amend the bill.

He said that under this amendment a prisoner sentenced to two years who would normally be allowed under the parole rules to leave prison after serving 16 months would under the early release programme be allowed to leave after thirteen months provided he met the good behaviour criteria. Ebanks reassured members of the Legislative Assembly that this would only apply to prisoners that were not considered at risk and who had demonstrated that they had learned their lesson. He noted too that as they would be released on license any slip would see them returned to Northward to serve out their full sentence.

“Having practiced this arrangement anyway, we are confident that people applying for the early release are prisoners who have learned a lesson,” he said. “Not everyone who goes there becomes an habitual offender and some people who may have made a mistake in their life learn from the experience and become committed to the right course.”

The amendment was supported by Osbourne Bodden who said that it was incumbent on legislators to do all they could to reduce the number of people inside prisons. “We should not be increasing prisoners. We need to put money into social programmes and education to reduce the amount of people serving time,” he said. “I have long been in favour of alternative sentencing which I know is being looked at. An electronic tagging system will be another way of reducing prison numbers and allow people to serve their sentences in the community.”

The amendment to the bill was passed without opposition.   



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  1. Anonymous says:


    How many Caymanian prisoners (NOT PAPER CAYMANIANS) are in Northward- as opposed to foreign nationals. Why is it that the Cayman legislators must be for the lack of better words- STUPID.

    1) A foreign national commits a crime – You find the person and deport them never to return to our Islands. SIMPLE. Why house and feed the miscreant? You are only rewarding him/her for the crime they committed. It makes no sense for the Caymanian people to pay for the room and board of a criminal whilst their hard earned money could be put to some other good use.

    2) The Caymanian prisoners – why not put them to WORK. There are alot of projects that the Roads Authority is tied to right now, why not make these men/women work instead of Government having to hire (additional expense) a firm. Get them digging the trenches, spreading fill, maintaining the parks, cutting the grass where necessary. THINK. WAKE UP. I can bet if these men/women are actually punished in some way for their wrong they would think twice about another crime and it would send a message to the others that Northward and Fairbanks is not the Westin, it’s not the vacation from home and work.

    Poor us. I feel so sorry for the next generation.