Crime & Punishment: Cure and prevention

| 31/03/2010

As the volume of public discourse increases daily for effective crime prevention in the Cayman Islands, spare a thought for HM Prison Northward and its efforts to rehabilitate its inmates. Ignore the anecdotal claims, from however high an authority, that criminals are happy to go there and that it’s a "hotel".  They’re not and it’s not:  

In reality it’s a tough prison with tough security.  And as regards rehabilitation and education, it’s facing a tough uphill struggle. 

The statistics speak for themselves.  Over 85% of the inmates are Caymanian, of whom of course a large number will be released within the next ten years; 5% within the next year alone.  Figures show recidivism, or re-offending, running at an astonishing and very worrying 80%+ of those released. 

A quick scan of the newspapers, online news and blogosphere shows an overwhelmingly short-sighted public attitude to crime prevention.  Of course it is extremely important to catch the criminals and ensure they are convicted and, if necessary, incarcerated.  But for most people, including most of our politicians, that’s it:  as the gates of Northward clang shut on yet another offender, that’s just one more undesirable taken out of circulation, one more well-deserved notch in the RCIP’s belt.  Society can breathe easier.  Job done. 

Except it’s not.  As we all know, very few inmates are given life sentences, where life actually means life.  Sooner or later they will be coming out.  And the vast majority of those coming out are Caymanians, with nowhere else to go or be sent to except back to the very neighbourhoods from which they committed their crimes in the first place.  They face an uncertain future, sometimes shunned, frequently encountering real difficulty finding a job.

What are we to do with these people?  In their eyes, rightly, they have paid their debt to society.  But life is hard.  They need to earn a living but find it difficult to do so, particularly after years of incarceration.  Recidivism is an all-too-easy option.

I have had the privilege over the past few weeks of seeing the rehabilitation staff at Northward in action, struggling to help inmates achieve goals not only in literacy and numeracy but anger management and the like.  This is a dedicated, enthusiastic group of professionals, clearly well-respected by the inmates.  They range from education officers to those trying to run a gym – under very trying conditions, it has to be said.  Funding for these projects is low to non-existent.  The prison’s education department has had to beg for support from outside to develop what is now a fully-equipped library and computer room.  The gym is completely unfunded at present, and closed more than half the time due to understaffing.

This will not do.  HMP Northward is not a garbage can, a Mount Trashmore of humanity, into which we simply tip offenders and then block them from our minds.  For a start, it is full of Caymanians: some admittedly villains who require close security, but many others who made a mistake several years ago and want to get on with their lives on the outside when the time comes

Without constant, hands-on rehabilitation programs, which at the very least means intellectual and physical education, they are simply going to rot.  And if they rot, what chance is there that they can be properly assimilated by society when they are released?  None.  Years and years of idleness and boredom will take their toll.  Without effective rehabilitation, an inmate will have to be a very strong character indeed not to become embittered, cynical and angry.  Those who entered the prison as criminals will leave it as hardened criminals, ripe to re-offend.  And the one thing Cayman needs no more of is another hardened criminal on the loose.

Politicians everywhere in the world are unlikely to see prison funding, and particularly rehabilitation funding, as a priority (although of course they should remember that each Caymanian released will then represent one more vote).  But I strongly believe that by investing in an effective rehabilitation program, with funds available for example to enable inmates to take correspondence courses to gain some kind of qualification, is of paramount importance, and that a politician who ignores the issue does so at his or her peril.  The program currently under way at the prison is excellent, but the staff are conducting it with their hands tied behind their backs.  As ever, the difficulty is lack of resources, which at the end of the day means money.  And as far as I can see, there is no political will to change that.  But change it must, unless we want to see today’s criminals, locked up now to a general sigh of relief across the community, coming out in ten years time having learned nothing except that the key was thrown away and they were ignored by the very society that should have sought in the meantime to re-educate them so they do not re-offend but rather become useful members of the community.

And finally, in case you’re wondering, I’m not some moaning liberal with my own human rights agenda..  I’m president of the Cayman Islands Law Society (although writing this in my private capacity) and a former commercial lawyer.  I am a conservative by nature, and a strong supporter of law and order.  This is emphatically not a conservative/liberal issue.  Leaving aside questions of basic human decency for one’s fellow-man, it’s nothing more than hard-headed common sense: a "no-brainer".  Do we want embittered, hardened criminals on the streets in five or ten years time? 

Of course not.  So what do we do?  We try as hard as we can to educate them and to address their attitudes, their difficulties, their problems with drugs, with violence and with anger, the one and only time we can – when, literally, they are a captive audience.  It takes time, it takes patience and above all it takes money.  But it will be money well-spent if just five, let alone fifty, former inmates discover that it enabled them to live again normally "on the outside", to find and hold down a job, and to develop and maintain a relationship.  But most of all, if it causes them to turn their backs on crime for good.


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  1. zzzzz says:

    Charles, I can accept what you say intellectually (I too have a few degrees and a law practice), but then I stop and apply the logic to the criminals and unavoidably I come to visualize the final hours of one of Cayman’s most undeserving murder victims, and the resulting rage that wells up compels me to say “XXXX ‘em, chop off their heads!” 

    I guess we could try to rehabilitate the lesser criminals.  Or we could say “XXXX them too, they made their choice”, and revise the laws to give them life too.  After a while, the cost of jailing all the bad guys would be high, but the up-side would be that all the bad guys would be in jail, and becoming a wankster would be less inviting as a career choice.

    This may sound harsh, but I want life to be harsh for them.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Rehabilitation may work in a lot of other parts in this world, but it will not work in a small community such as the Cayman Islands. Members of gangs will not be able to escape the claws of their previous gang mates and will likely be found and either punished or sucked back in. The same applies to drug offenders etc. The criminals can’t escape their past, because it will find them wherever they go on this Island. Everyone knows who was in prison and what for. Unless they are prepared to move off Islands (which clearly won’t work once you have been convicted of a crime)I am afraid they don’t stand much of a chance. This is not the USA where you can move to the other side of a continent after coming out of prison and start over. Perhaps cruel, but it is a fact.

    We all make our choices.

  3. Animaliberator says:

    It has been mentioned numerous times in the these responses and others before, that a lot of prisoners are there because of the way they grew up. Whether that was caused by early abuse, dis-respect, dis-liked for whatever reason but basically gave them the feeling of being unwanted by society in general and ended up being un-loved by many if not all.

    I believe a lot of the prisoners ended up in Northward in an attempt to force some kind of respect if you will, in order to feel worthy among their family and friends, not realizing where that would lead to as they can’t really help themselves anymore once they have commenced their life of crime, usually with "help" from others in the same situation.

    It has been proven many times now in other countries, one of the better initial rehabilitation methods is to find a way to make these people love something or somebody. Animals have been the answer for many as animals, dogs but not limited to in particular, demand to be loved, even by the worlds worst criminals, dogs do not discriminate, they love you regardless if you can manage to love them, even a little.

    This type of therapy alters the way a person thinks, mostly about themselves and comes to realize that being loved, even by a dog, is a really good feeling, it creates a bond with a living being that demands their help and in turn will help the person feel respected, something they may have never experienced before until that time, but now for the right reasons.

    Once that sense and feeling of well-being has been established, the prisoner will be much better prepared to make the next step for additional rehabilitation, if needed, to re-enter civilization and then time and money may very well be much better spent.

    This type of therapy has never been introduced in Cayman as yet but think it is very much worth while a try. There are many dogs at the Humane Society that could do with a bit of help too and are litterally "dying" for an opportunity such as this, where there is supervision that will prevent any kind of animal abuse and those inadvertedly do, shall be punished in addition to their current sentence. The cost for this opportunity to create a human alter-ego is virtually neglectable compared to alternate methods. 

    It would be great if the those in power could give this some consideration to help man and animal simultaneously. We may all be very surprised what the outcome could be.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Very well written article Charles, any person that has ever spent a couple days in jail can tell you it is the loss of freedom that pains the soul so these idiots that think a cell phone and tv makes it fun need to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

    These men need compassion and help, if you treat them like animals they will develop a similar attitude towards their fellow man.

    • Anonymous says:

      I suggest you walk a mile or further in their shoes, most of these people cut themselves off from family by pursuing crime…The fact is in a controlled environment the small things make a difference, This is the only prison in the world that I know of that prisoners have the ability to order take out, run your gang related business from prison because you have a cell phone and watch cableTV free of charge…The fact that these people are in prison is because they behaved like animals in the first place, prison is a place where one needs to do the time in a sterile environment, and if you miss Civilian life then this should be the ultimate motivator to clean up your act and straighten out…

      Compared to any prison systems worldwide, Northward is a Hotel…

      If you cant do the time don’t do the crime…Prison is meant to be a deterrent and it should be hard…and difficult and uncomfortable , manual labor, cook your own meals, do your own laundry , inspections every day.

      Law is mans attempt to put Morality into words

      Being a civilian means respecting the laws – when you break the laws you have proved you have neither the moral conscience or respect to be treated as a civilian.

      Your line of thought :

      When your dog attacks your child, you give him extra blankets fix up the yard especially for him and give him extra toys and a new kennel with playthings and visit him often…Because its not really his fault…It’s the environment he is brought up in…

      Instead of doing the right thing by sending him on a highly strict and disciplined course to see whether he can be rehabilitated – if not well too bad…

      North side has many many repeat offenders that cannot be rehabilitated by giving them an easy life…And compared to any regional prison it is a Hotel…

      You have to break them down to build them back up…Just spend some time in the military where you first three months is worse than any prison, you are heckled pushed and pushed further to your limits and beyond to break you down and build you back up – to separate the men from the boys…Hard work and discipline build character and character is what makes a man …

      To all those bleeding heart liberals, I say run a few miles in the victims families shoes and then see how the rest of the world works before you comment.




      • Lev Itticus says:

        "Law is mans attempt to put Morality into words"  It isn’t.  Criminal law is an attempt to prescribe activities which are considered so incompatible with a societal structure that a punitive sanction is imposed.  It sets a minimum standard of required behaviour.  As such the function of punishment ought to reflect the incompatibility of the criminal’s actions with that minimum standard both historically and whether in the future is the behaviour indicative of a lifestyle where incompatible behaviour is likely to reoccur.  Rehabilitation addresses in part the second limb.

        I can lie, it is immoral but generally not illegal.  I can be unfaithful to a spouse, it is immoral but generally not illegal.  I watch a small child drown in a swimming pool and do nothing to help them, it is immoral but generally not illegal.

        • Anonymous says:

          I said "Law" Generalizing of course – not specifically criminal law…All laws are man’s attempt to set a socially acceptable standard or limit on actions or behavior…These standards or Laws where all motivated and driven by a Moral Conscience or Compass…Note I said : It is mans "attempt" to put Morality into words…I did not say that they got it 100% right 100% of the time…



          • Lev Itticus says:

            No they are not!  The points made above apply equally to civil laws.  In countries with a common law tradition there is no "attempt" to achieve what you want – we leave that to the Taleban and Pol Pot.  The law prescribes minimum limits and obligations consistent with societal interaction not higher moral norms – read Lord Atkin’s speech in Donoghue v. Stevenson (a civil not a criminal case).  Moral codes tend to support helping others, criminal and civil laws tend to discourage harming others in society.  There is a massive gap between the two and that is where your entire premise falls down.

            • Anonymous says:

              criminal and civil laws tend to discourage harming others in society – and Morals don’t ???

              This was a generalized post on the state of the prison not an argument on the Intricacies of a legal opinion…I can find many other ways to put myself to sleep…


  5. Pit Bull says:

    Rehabilitation is great in theory.  In practice it is largely a huge waste of time and resources.  Recividism is the norm regardless of attempts to offer services to those who have decided to follow a life of crime. 

    There are two things which unarguably lead to decreases in crime figures – increased incarceration and increased police resources.  The first is the most telling when it comes to rehabilitation – the reason is that criminals can’t commit more crimes after release if they are still in jail.

    Sorry but the statistics show that a leopard rarely changes its spots.

    • Anonymous says:

      A leopard was born with spots – hence it can’t change.  A human was born innocent.  He changed to become a criminal, mainly due to environment.  With help he can again become a decent human being.  Have a heart & reach out to the less fortunate!  God is love & so is his son Jesus.

      Society can be harsh/selfish.  Remember it takes a community to raise a child to become a decent human being.  History proves that abuse/harsh treatment does not rehabilitate so all those advocates for inhumane treatment, you are no better than the criminal.  If it was your child …….what then?

      Kudos to Charles Jennings.  Let’s hope the politicians educate themselves in this regard.  But then, can convicted criminals vote?

  6. Joe Average says:

    Mr. Jennings, I understand what you’re saying, but what will they be coming out to…in five years or less?  When we don’t even know?  Have you been reading the news?  It isn’t good is it, are there are tough times present.  Is the premise we should undergo present hardships, increased fees, lowered wages, layoffs, etc. in order to make a nicer place for them to enter back into? 

     If they think, as someone pointed out life in Northward is better than getting up and going to work.  Is it a viable idea to enhance that, or try to make it as similar to "outside" life as we can without a requirement on their parts? That’s the question, right or wrong I believe many are asking deep down when they demand a little harsher environment.  Because a sentiment is, often when they are released they are used to a great deal of leisure time, used to being taken care of, and fed.  And, therefore, ill prepared for employment and it’s realities even if it should come their way.

    Rehabilitation is fine but many of us have to undergo our own "rehabilitation" every time our bills are due, and we don’thave the money.  The "rehabilitation" we have undergone, is the fact that we realize we have to work to make a living.  Along with educational programs, which I support, part of the rehabilitation should be instilling a work ethic.  Which obviously they didn’t have if they resorted to crime.

    In other words, if a prisoner would like better treatment or additional programs…they should have to earn it, and that should be a part of the training also.  Without that growth upon release I can guarantee you they’ll look for the "easy way" again.

    • Anonymous says:

      Excellent post. You are absolutely right. The primary lesson many in Northward need is how to earn the food the eat, the roof over their head and perhaps even the A/C and cable TV they now get for free. It is no wonder that the rate of re-offending is so high when all that they learn in prison is that if they commit crimes someone will feed them well and remove any need to do anything for themselves. 

  7. Anonymous says:

    Charles, great article and very many excellent points but given the availability of sex (not just with Bubba) and drug use, the hotel  (OK, compromise, hotel in Vegas) analogy is not that unfair. 


    Add to that, free cable and phone use in every room, and the prison’s critics have plenty of straws to clutch at.

  8. Anonymous says:

    80%+ recidivism? what the hell are they teaching these prisoners?

    • Anonymous says:

      Best guess is that crime does pay or at least that it has no cost to the criminal.

  9. Anonymous says:

    What about the copious amount of drugs found at Northward? What about the cell phone which are so numerous the plan is not to remove them all but rather to block the signals.

    How much actual time did you spend at Northward before writing this contribution?

    The levels of contraband are very high at Northward as confirmed by recent FOI disclosures of drug testing there.

    Until the rules at Northward are seen to be enforced it will be very difficult to make the general public’s opinion of Northward as a hotel to change.

  10. Spiritualist says:

    Very well written!

    And so very true that politicians and many of the electorate are unwilling to look at and plan for the long term…which means putting more resources into the Social Services of these islands. For too long we have denied the social needs…just like we denied gangs and we can see where that attitude has gotten us.

    I work with many of those in need of rehabilitation…and many are not "bad" people…butmost have been neglected and otherwise abused and with no hope of help. Many became angry to fight off and survive neglect and/or abuse. It is our civic responsibility as a country to try to provide for these resources…and for resources from childhood/school age to help our people.

    Studies have been done internationally, and the "happiest" people/countries (with lowest crime rates) are NOT the countries who speak of, any expend energy and resources only on Financial matters.It’s those countries that have found a balance to ensure that their peoples social needs are taken care of that are the happiest!


  11. Anonymous says:

    Well said Mr. Jennings, well said!

    Hope our leaders are reading this and heed your advice!

  12. whodatis says:

    Interesting post.

    Personally, I am bit uncertain as to where I stand on the prison(er) issue.

    This is because I am of the generation which makes up the majority of the prison body and as a result I have personal knowledge and first hand experience with many of these characters.

    The blatant truth is that MANY of these young men (ignoring women for now) have no real "good reason" to be in prison.

    Many have come from "good homes" with well-intentioned and hard working parents – bringing great shame upon the family name in the process. Of course there are those that never really stood a chance in life due to their "up-dragging" – but that does NOT apply to the majority of the prison body.

    Simply put, the harsh reality is that many of these young men CHOSE to submerge themselves in the lifestyle and characters that led them to Northward Prison – and do understand, I grew up with one of its current prisoners and we were like brothers – last time we spoke he told me he would do it all over again, as due to his street education, he now knows where he made the "mistakes" that got him caught – he is now a better criminal I guess.

    There is not a single prisoner at Northward that was unaware of the risks they were undertaking or the consequences of their actions. We all have a responsibility to keep our noses clean and walk on the right side of the road.

    Furthermore, what truly irks me is that having lived and worked in other parts of the world where I have witnessed true deprivation and desperation that eventually leads to "legitimate" criminality – I have VERY LITTLE compassion for any Caymanian young man that finds himself behind the fence of Northward Prison. Add to this the vast number of work permit holders in the blue collar or manual work trades in this country and my compassion is removed even more.

    This point however, is not solely directed at our criminal element but rather to our society as a whole. As a collective we do not respect and promote common or average professions in this community nearly as much as we should. Too many parents want their children to become lawyers, accountants or bankers but it is quite simply not a realistic goal! This is not a reflection or implication of the capabilities of Caymanians, but it is simply a statistical fact of any given population. We are a tiny community – therefore, only a select few will make it through to said positions – add to that the head-start that other cultures / countries have had in regards to generational trends of higher education – the chances are lessened a bit more. Therefore, the mindset of "become a white collar worker or you are deemed a loser!" is rife throughout our community – however, we all still want to keep up with the Joneses so many of our young men decide to take the other road.

    However, in the midst of all of this is the overwhelmingly common sentiment of: "I nah ‘fraid go Nort’ward!" – that permeates throughout the criminal elements of our community.

    This is not just "big talk" folks – this is a reality!

    I have been a long advocate of the implementation of harsher conditions at our local prison. Simply put – our prison MUST become a place that our young men are AFRAID to be sent to. Bottom line.

    The temptations of the "easy way" are not going away anytime soon. We have soft borders and countless regional and international "connections" – to some extent we are (seemingly) powerless against these elements, we are however able to control the conditions of our prison.

    Mr. Jennings, what you need to understand is that at the end of the day, deep down we Caymanians KNOW that most of these young men end up in prison as a result of selfish, lazy or greedy behaviour – so we don’t "pet" them.

    There is of course another real issue of one gaining employment after incarceration in this country however, that again goes back to my immediately previous paragraph.

    However, all of that being said I will acknowledge that there has been a glaringly obvious lack of attention to the trade professions in this country. Honestly, I am not sure what are the reasons behind this. As I mentioned earlier – we do not (have not)  generally respect(ed) blue collar professions. Perhaps it is time that we all adjust our attitudes.

    As for the current prisoners and those on their way – I don’t know what to say about them. Cayman is awash in opportunity – our previous governments have failed in some areas, our parents have failed in some areas…but at the end of the day – just about every Northward prisoner knew better and committed the crimes that landed them there out of pure greed, selfishness or laziness.

    (**Note: Our approach to "drugs" need a serious overhaul for I believe far too many of our young men are spending time in prison for offenses that would get them no more than a substantial fine in other parts of the world. While at the same time, we have double CONVICTED murderers / "manslaughterers" being arrested yet again for "attempted murder" in the past few days!)



    • Right ya so says:

      Well said. Having grown up here, I too know a number of the prisoners, and agree with all that you have said.. It’s not because they don’t have or weren’t given when young it is, in the majority of cases, because they don’t want to work – sheer idleness. And, as you said, when they are released they will do it all over again but this time they will be better at it !

      Some may be capable of rehabilitation but I fear the majority will not.

      Agreed on the drug laws – ganga, weed, pot, whatever you want to call it, is, in today’s world, a very, very minor issue, no better/no worse than alcohol, and those who are caught with a ‘spliff’, roach, an ounce or two should be fined (btwn $250/$500) and expected to pay within 10 days –  no court appearance, no waste of funds, police time etc. prosecuting this very minor infraction. Many of those that partake of this drug are generally harmless and just want to be left in peace to smoke at the end of the day – much like those that have a glass of wine or beer at the end of their day.

      Btw I neither drink nor use drugs, do have an alcoholic in the family, have a cousin who makes frequent appearances in drug rehab facilities, but think that addictions are part of human nature and will continue whether or not we restrict substances. As far as I’m concerned someone that stays home & smokes is far better citizen than someone who sits in a bar, drinks and then gets behind the wheel and drives home.

      We have better things to do with Northward than fill it up with a bunch of pot smokers! and I can guarantee once they get out of prison the first thing they will do is find a joint to smoke!


  13. Rufus B. Saye says:

    Oh my goodness! Stop making so much sense!! 🙂

    Seriously though, with the increasingly shorter attention spans of both the electorate and their elected leaders, I despair that long-term thinking like Mr. Jennings has demonstrated will ever be followed up on…

    I’d love to be proven wrong.