Archive for March 31st, 2010

Crime & Punishment: Cure and prevention

| 31/03/2010 | 22 Comments

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 goor 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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Family services needs to prevent abuse says Adam

| 31/03/2010 | 19 Comments

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman Island Local News, Cayman family support(CNS): With the Department of Family Services facing increased pressure on their services as a result of the current economic difficulties, the minister with responsibility for the department has said it is important that the most vulnerable are helped first. Mike Adam told staff that the challenge was to ensure that they plugged loop-holes to prevent abuse of the system and sharpened delivery of key services to the most vulnerable, while focusing on programmes to empower clients to help themselves. He also said the department needed to promote foster care as a means of placing young people in healthy environments.

The minister of community affairs and housing met with DCFS staff from the West Bay and George Town Office at Mirco Centre last week to discuss streamlining services so they can continue to help poor and vulnerable Caymanians without an increase in their budget during the worsening economic crisis.

 “While there are at present no plans to either increase or reduce the budgetary allocations for services to clients, we must work together to ensure that the funds we do have are used in the most effective way,” the Minister said.  Adam explained that the ministry is in the process of developing the Poor Relief Regulations which will provide for the conditions under which poor relief is awarded and suggested a renewed emphasis on the DCFS welfare-to-work programme STARSS (Support Towards Autonomy Retraining and Self-Sufficiency) which has been successful for some clients.

The purpose of STARSS is to provide people with life and job skills training, job preparation, and support services allowing them to develop a self-sufficiency plan to help them out of their present situation and into work.

Another issue which the minister said the DCFS needed to promote was foster care as a means of placing young people in healthy environments. “Foster care will enable our children to be in an environment where they can get individualised care and nurturing; this will better aid their social development,” Adam stated.  

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Taylor says he will deliver

| 31/03/2010 | 12 Comments

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman Island Headline News, Cayman Governor Duncan Taylor(CNS): The Cayman Islands’ new governor has made a commitment to deliver a national prevention strategy to tackle the country’s very high crime levels during his tenure. Speaking at a specially convened press briefing to update the public on the work of the National Security Council (NSC), Duncan Taylor promised that he would make it a priority to see that a real plan is put in place to deal with the problem holistically. He said that while the police commissioner was dealing with the current short term situation, the national strategy would be about a medium to long term plan to reduce crime. From legislative changes to addressing literacy, he said there was a need to develop policy that would deliver on the goal of reducing crime.

Taylor said every country and jurisdiction that had managed to tackle crime problems had implemented multi-agency approaches.  “There are no easy solutions, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good solutions,” he said, adding that while he couldn’t wave a magic wand it was possible to deliver more complex programmes by using the information available.

He said Cayman could look at what other countries had done to tackle this kind of crime problem with gangs and that by utilising the research and recommendations from existing reports, such as that written by Yolanda Forde in 2006, the NSC could begin to form a policy. The governor said he believed there was a lot of information and research to draw upon, as well as a lot of good ideas coming from the community that the Security Council would examine.

“The challenge is to turn the information and ideas into action and make a difference,” he said, adding that the NSC had now met three times and the gang and gun crime was its main focus. Despite the fact it was also concerned with other security matters, domestic crime levels were now its priority.

He said once the NSC had developed a draft of a national crime strategy, which he hoped would be in a couple of months, it would be circulated for public consultation. “It is very important that we have buy-in from the community before implementing a new strategy,” Taylor told the press.

He said the areas that the plan would cover would include local at-risk youth, tighter immigration security, education and employment issues, and speeding up the justice system. The governor also spoke about the need for a gang reduction strategy. This was not just about the police rounding up gang members, he explained,  but a community-wide campaign to reduce the attractiveness of being a gang member and to spell out to young people the realities and brutality of life as a gang member.

“We need to demystifying the idea of gangs and reduce the attraction to young people,” Taylor suggested.

He also said the prison needed to be examined because there were concerns that inmates were able to contact other gang members as they had access to cell phones. But he also said that there was a need to examine rehabilitation projects.

When it came to the criminal justice system itself the governor spoke about the use of tagging for offenders, as well as witness protection schemes, judge-only trials in certain limited cases, and ways to protect intelligence.

He was keen to stress that this role and that of the NSC was to create a wider national crime reduction policy but not to interfere with the actual operational aspect of crime. The day to day activity, he said, was down to the commissioner.

The NSC was mandated in the 2009 Constitution to provide advice to the governor on internal security matters. Council members are Premier McKeeva Bush, Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks, Leader of the Opposition Kurt Tibbetts, Attorney General Sam Bulgin, Police Commissioner David Baines, cabinet ministers Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and Mark Scotland. Representing civil society are businesspersons Brigitte Kirkconnell-Shaughness and Dan Scott, while Orrett Connor will serve as the NSC Secretary.

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Cops to keep up pressure

| 31/03/2010 | 29 Comments

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman Island Headline News(CNS): Reviewing the considerable number of arrests and charges made in the recent murders, shootings and the kidnapping, the commissioner of police said yesterday at a media briefing that the pressure on the criminals would remain. Although he said many of the known gang members were now locked down, police were still looking for one in particular. He said police had also made considerable headway in the enquiry into the killing of Marcos Duran in West Bay on 11 March.  Baines confirmed, too, that a fourth suspect had been rounded up in the kidnapping case.

The commissioner said a 32-year-old local man was arrested on Tuesday morning in George Town on suspicion of abduction and blackmail.

He said the reason why the RCIPS had been able to make so many arrests and charge others in the last few days was because the community was beginning to come forward and reveal genuine information. He appealed for that to continue and in particular asked people to tell the police or their pastors or political representatives, anyone they trusted, if they knew where the guns being used were hidden.

“If you know the locations of weapons, it is critical that people start to give up that information,” Baines said at a press briefing hosted by the governor on Tuesday, 30 March. “We are making a distinct appeal about firearms, and although we have seized some since Friday, we are looking for more and we do need more help with that.”

The commissioner said that by offering the information to the police about where the guns may be hidden those people would save lives. He asked them to call the confidential help line 949-7777, which he promised was manned by hand-picked officers who would only pass on the substance of the information coming through that line to officers in the field, who would have no idea of who had given the information.

Baines revealed that a lot of the arrests and charges came because people had used the confidential line or had spoken to the police, demonstrating a growing confidence that the police could handle information confidentially. He vowed to keep those who came forward safe but asked for help to regain control of the streets.  The commissioner also warned that while a lot of the information was very helpful in terms of directing operational activities, in order to prosecute the suspects police still needed committed evidence from witnesses.

He also revealed that he had made a request to the UK to bring in 14 trained and specialist police officers and detectives to fill the RCIPS skills gaps until the recruitment programme was complete. He said the UK officers would be here over the next week or so but for no more than 6 weeks and that they were being brought in for specific roles, not to take over.

He said he did not think a SWOT team was what was needed, but skilled support, such as officers trained in video and audio interview techniques and gang investigations among others. “This is support, it’s not about taking over,” Baines said. “We need to manage and run our own force but everyone agrees this is an unprecedented level of violence and we need to fill the skill gaps immediately.”

 The RCIPS was also working hard on upping existing skill levels among officers, Baines stated, with several currently undergoing modern interview technique training, but it was difficult to have officers learn on the job when the service was so pressed as the police could not afford to jeopardise interviews and provide potential loopholes for the defence in court.

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UK turns off aid to Haiti

| 31/03/2010 | 2 Comments

(Timesonline): Britain has pledged no new aid for the reconstruction of Haiti and will be the only big economy not represented at ministerial level at a landmark donor conference in New York today to plan the country’s future, The Times has learnt. As Hillary Clinton and the former President Bill Clinton lead a top-level American delegation to the conference, Britain will be represented by Philip Parham, the Deputy Ambassador to the UN. Brazil, France, Canada, Spain, Japan and the Irish Republic as well as the US are sending senior ministers. Nearly three months after one of the worst natural disasters of modern times, a Haitian government report places the death toll at 220,000 while the people believe that twice that number were killed.

More than a million homeless Haitians are still in urgent need of basic humanitarian aid, yet the UN has reported a slump in donations to its top-priority relief fund.

Aid agencies expressed bewilderment at Britain’s low-key presence at a conference that could determine the fate of ambitious plans to lift Haiti out of its cycle of poverty and crisis.

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Public accounting attacked

| 31/03/2010 | 12 Comments

Cayman Islands News,Grand Cayman Islan headline News, Cayman finance(CNS): In the wake of persistent calls from the chair of the Public Accounts Committee to review the way government does its accounts, the premier has added his support to a review of the system. However, the country’s top auditor has warned that the Public Management and Finance Law was designed to improve the quality of accounting and offer politicians better information about where public money is going. Auditor General Dan Duguay pointed out that since the introduction of the law the government has not seen what the system can offer because the accounts have not been done, but it would be inappropriate to throw out the law before it has been given a chance to work.

In the Legislative Assembly last week Ezzard Miller, the independent member for North Side, filed a private member’s motion to have a select committee review the Public Management and Finance Law and change it. He also asked a parliamentary question regarding how much the law had cost to implement. Miller has long held the position that the government needs to return to the centralized accounting and reporting system while keeping the accrual method, as opposed to cash based accounting.

In response to his question Premier McKeeva Bush, who now has responsibility for financial matters, said 73 positions were created as a result of PMFL, costing government almost $17 million in salaries since its introduction in 2003. However, government did not offer a comparative list of the number and cost of financial staff in government before the law was implemented.

Duguay noted that information could be expensive, and had government received accounts as it was supposed to, the PMFL would offer very good information to politicians. He pointed out that the deficit and budget problems would not be so bad now if government had known exactly what was being spent on what at an earlier stage. He noted that out of date accounting information was no better than an absence of information when it came to the budget.

“Right now the Legislative Assembly knows that it gives around $500 million every year to government to spend but has no idea what it spends it on,” he said. “Information always costs money but it could be worth it. I think with better information government could make better judgements about cuts. Right now it is simply relying on anecdotal evidence about what it is getting for its money.”

While the AG acknowledges that the system is not working, he said rather than throw out the law it would be more beneficial for government to find a way to make the system work.

In response to Miller’s private members motion,, Bush said he had already written to the governor expressing his concerns about the “system” associated with PMFL and the desire to change it. The premier said he did not think the civil servants themselves were necessarily at fault but that the bureaucracy was the problem.

“A review of the PMFL in my opinion, would place the focus correctly on the systems that civil servants work within rather than on the civil servants themselves,” he told the LA on Thursday night (25 March). “The civil service consists of many systems and procedures in addition to the civil servants themselves, and when people point to the civil service as part of the problems we must bear in mind that this does not imply faults on the civil servant themselves as the issues often relate to the various systems within which they work.”

He added that he would like to see a review of all the civil service policies and procedures, because he did not think they were geared towards serving the needs of the economy. “If well intended systems and procedures result in failure to address inwards investment needs or the need for the government to execute its policies then it does beg the question as to what is the point of has having these systems and procedures in the first place,” he observed. “I also do recognize that such systems and procedures are there to assist in managing the government’s risk, controlling cost, etc, so clearly there needs to be a balance.”

Bush said he felt the balance was too much in the wrong direction and government must serve the people and the needs of the economy, particularly in crucial times such as these.

The premier added that it was unacceptable that there had been no audited accounts of core government’s revenue and expenditure since the enactment of this law. “Every effort must be made to correct this situation and we believe that part of the solution may come from amendments to the PMFL,” he said.

In his letter to the governor Bush has also raised the question of whether the government should consider switching back to a January to December fiscal year instead of the current fiscal year which runs from July to June.  Such a switch would avoid the sticky political question of moving the general election dates back to November and as a result cutting short the government’s term by six months.

“The Ministry of Finance is considering a number of reasons why we should revert back to the calendar year,” he wrote to the governor. He explained that the end of the current fiscal year ends too close to a general election and why it was moved, but that because of Hurricane Ivan the original rationale is no longer relevant.  The premier said that in due course the ministry would be submitting a position paper on the question of the calendar year change, but in the meantime he pressed the governor to consider a formal review of the PMFL.

“I believe that this review of the PMFL should be carried out as a matter of urgency and that we should aim to complete this exercise by the end of May 2010. It would benefit the performance of our upcoming fiscal year, for 2010/2011, if we were able to identify and implement possible adjustments to the PMFL and the related systems and procedures,” Bush told the governor.

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Bush says Miller report is valuable resource

| 31/03/2010 | 10 Comments

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman Island headline news, James Miller(CNS): The premier has revealed that the cost to the Cayman Islands government for the recent report written by James Miller and David Shaw was CI$160,000. Hitting back at critics of the report, McKeeva Bush said that the work of the commission involved wide consultation with various senior stakeholders in private and public sector, as well as contributions from Phd level economists. Tabling the report in the Legislative Assembly he said people had chosen to discredit it because it does not say exactly what they want it to say but he believed the report offered valuable recommendations.

Bush added that government was in general agreement with many of those recommendations and it intended to implement quite a few of them. He said the government was generally pleased with the contribution made by the report, and while there were some who felt the report did not add value because it did not suggest direct taxes, Bush said taxes were not a sensible suggestion.

Speaking to members of the Legislative Assembly late on Thursday night, the premier said that that the report’s finding that there should be no direct taxation was one the government fully endorsed.

“It is our view that there is a substantial flaw in the argument that this country should alter the fundamental basis of our approach to taxation in terms of our status as a country, which relies exclusively on indirect taxes, because we are facing fiscal challenges,” Bush said.

Despite the fact that virtually every other country around the world is experiencing fiscal difficulties, irrespective of the nature of their tax systems, Cayman is being told it has problems because it does not have direct taxes, the premier said. “The argument being put to us … persistently by the UK is that somehow the introduction of a series of direct taxes would be more sustainable than the current set of indirect taxes that we have in this country,” the premier observed. “If direct taxes were so much more sustainable, why is that the vast majority of countries, and most of which rely heavily on direct taxation, are facing such severe fiscal andeconomic crises?”

Bush said he believed the Miller report had pointed to Cayman’s basic problems, which were that expenditures have grown much faster than the revenues and the country was negatively impacted by the global economic downturn, and not for the first time he suggested the previous government embarked on an overly ambitious capital expenditure program.

“I am under no disillusion that the primary reason for this was the global economic downturn,” he said. “Indeed it is crystal clear to me and from the evidence in the Miller Report that the first two factors, namely the rapid growth in expenditures and the overly ambitious capital expenditure program, were the key factors contributing to this crisis.”

Agreeing with Miller’s recommendation that government engages in privatization and asset sales, the premier noted that, contrary to what the opposition might spread, government did not agree with all of the reports conclusions. “We will proceed to have the various opportunities assessed by the so-called Big Four professional services firms, and I have already announced this initiative publicly. These firms will assess the options and provide us with their recommendations on what makes good business sense for the government,” he told the House.

Government also agreed there may be opportunities to restructure several existing government departments and agencies, Bush stated, adding that the reduction of civil service benefits would be examined by the deputy governor. He also said the governor would be examining broader cuts to the civil services and Bush said the goal was to limit personnel related cost to a specified amount for the 2010/2011 fiscal year, and the governor would meet with the civil service to devise solutions to achieve this. He said government believed the civil service headcount could be reduced through the divestment of various authorities and agencies, as well as throughrestructuring.

“My government does not believe that the government should be aggressively laying off civil servants in the current economic climate for both economic and social reasons,” the premier added.            

The reform of statutory authorities is another area where the government agreed with Miller, Bush said. “Several of these organisations currently receive an annual subsidy from the government, so it is indeed important that they are made to be more efficient to minimize, and we hope in some cases completely avoid, the need for any subsidy from the government,” Bush explained.

The premier said there was a need to change the way things were done, not only to recover but to make the country stronger.

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