KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Britain's top prisons inspector called Tuesday for urgent reforms and significant investment to quickly improve conditions at the Cayman Islands' overcrowded lockups, which he portrayed as dirty and disorganized.
Conditions were found to be so dismal that the U.K. Chief Inspector of Prisons Nick Hardwick said many of the facilities should be demolished on the wealthy British territory, a grouping of three tiny islands that boasts the world's sixth largest financial center and the highest standard of living in the Caribbean.
In his Tuesday report, which provides a rare window on a Caribbean jail system, Hardwick said he was shocked by the poor conditions his team found at the British dependency's two small prisons and various police and court jail cells.
His inspection team concluded that cells at Grand Cayman's HMP Northward prison were "decrepit, chaotic and dirty with an oppressive and intimidating atmosphere." Use of illegal drugs was rampant in vermin-infested cells and there were few attempts at rehabilitation before releasing convicts back into society.
A small number of juvenile offenders shared accommodation with adult male convicts, he said. "There were no systems to protect them from predatory behavior, and it says much that those who seemed most concerned for their safety were other prisoners," said Hardwick's report, adding that the youngsters were also at risk of recruitment into gangs.
Hardwick's team of inspectors said the most troubling facility was a high-risk unit where a small number of convicts were locked up in "appalling conditions for extended periods each day, and in some cases for many years." The inspectors said they believed this unit had "no legitimacy.
Police holding cells in the islands' capital of George Town and the Grand Cayman community of West Bay were also "barely fit for human habitation." Eric Bush, the Cayman Islands' chief officer for internal and external affairs, said the government will work to improve conditions, but noted that it will be challenging in "economically austere times."
"There are still many issues to be addressed but the important thing is that we have a defined roadmap," said Bush, adding that the government has already requested that the British prisons inspection team revisit the island lockups next year.
The Cayman Islands' offshore financial industry is a major haven for mutual funds and private equity. The islands are located about 150 miles (240 kilometers) south of Cuba.
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