Published On: Tue, Jun 23rd, 2020

Attorneys threaten Minister Richardson with new lawsuit over prison conditions


PHILIPSBURG — The attorneys representing thirty inmates of the Pointe Blanche prison have put the feet of Justice Minister Anna Richardson to the fire with a demand to improve the conditions in the detention center within seven days. If the minister does not honor the request, the attorneys will take the matter to court.

Sjamira Roseburg, the attorney for the Inmates Association and her colleagues Shaira Bommel and Geert Hatzmann (the Dean of the Bar Association) do not mince their words in their letter to the minister. They emphatically state that her predecessor Egbert Doran made promises but did nothing to improve the situation.

The attorneys informed Doran on February 17 about the unacceptable conditions in the prison, but the minister did not bother to react to their letter. Richardson succeeded Doran shortly afterwards, but she did not respond either.

In this letter, the attorneys pointed out that nothing had come of Doran’s promises to improve the conditions to an acceptable security and humanitarian level.

Last week the court declared a lawsuit against the justice minister inadmissible; it followed the country’s attorney’s argument that the demand (to transfer inmates to safer prisons in the Netherlands or Bonaire) could not be granted because this depended on the cooperation of the Netherlands and because the Netherlands allegedly was not willing to cooperate.

“Truth be told, we do not believe at all that you have really tried to get cooperation from the Netherlands for the accommodation of inmates,” the attorneys write. “The court ruling boils down to a reward for your stubbornness, unwillingness, negligence, and incompetence.”

The attorneys label the court ruling as a Pyrrhus-victory for the justice ministry. “By hiding behind the unwillingness of the Netherlands you have saddled yourself with a huge problem. If it is not possible to transfer inmates to the Netherlands and Bonaire during the time you need to improve the prison conditions to acceptable security and humanitarian levels, then the consequence is that those conditions have to be improved immediately.”

The attorneys refer to an earlier court ruling (of October 29, 2019) that labels the prison in practically all fields as inadequate. The court ruled that having and maintaining a prison is a basic obligation for the country, based on its own legislation. “The country is obliged to provide and maintain a safe prison. It is clear that the country has not managed to do this.”

In the opinion of the court, this represents a violation of article 3 of the Constitution. This article states: “Nobody may be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or humiliating treatment or punishment.”

“The Pointe Blanche inmates are living under dangerous conditions and the country has known this for years but it does not manage to improve the situation,” the court ruling states. “This way the country has created a situation that boils down to cruel and inhumane punishment.”

The court furthermore reproached the country for ‘categorically ignoring” reports from the Law Enforcement Council and for not implementing structural improvements.

Deadline Monday

The attorneys demand that the minister improves the conditions in the prison to acceptable security and humanitarian levels within seven days of the date of their letter (June 22); this puts the deadline next week Monday.

If Minister Richardson does not comply, the attorneys will start legal procedures in an attempt to impose their demands.

“It is your responsibility to make sure that the living conditions in the prison are humane and that the safety of the inmates is guaranteed,” the attorneys conclude their letter.

marching attorneys - MGP

Captions file photos: Attorneys have been in action against the government over the years for many different reasons. Whether it is for lack of payments of their pro deo funds or for other injustices or shortcomings. This time they are fighting for the rights of the Pointe Blanche prison inmates to have humane prison conditions.