Published On: Sat, Apr 11th, 2020

Committee exasperated about lack of progress at the prison

Pointe Blanche 20170209 - HH

PHILIPSBURG – The justice ministry does not have a grip on the detention facilities in St. Maarten. “The ministry has not freed up capacity for it and it is functioning badly. That hinders the prison management because the authority over personnel and finances lies with the minister of justice. Due to the ministry’s bad functioning decisions are not taken and important documents go missing.”

This is one of the highly critical remarks in a blistering letter from the Progress Committee to Minister Raymond Knops (Home Affair and Kingdom Relations) that accompanies the committee’s 36th report about the situation at the police force and the Pointe Blanche prison.

The Progress Committee, established when St. Maarten became an autonomous country in 2010, consists of chairman Nico Schoof, Michel Marijnen and local attorney Jason Rogers. The secretariat of the committee is handled by Gert-Jan Stortelers and Terrance Rey.

The lack of improvement of the situation at the prison has exasperated the committee for years because the justice ministry failed to do anything with its recommendations. The latest letter to Minister Knops contains an overview of the 29 recommendations the committee has made since 2016.

“St. Maarten is incapable of solving the detention problems without external help,” the committee writes. There is a lack of expertise and manpower; massive support from the Netherlands is necessary.”

And that is the next issue: there has hardly been any consultation with the Netherlands about requests for assistance. The committee notes that – two-and-a-half years after Hurricane Irma – a number of projects have been executed but that the situation for staff and inmates has not improved. “The execution of the detention plan has not started yet.”

In its latest report the committee notes that the numerous changes of government and changes of prison directors are hampering progress.

To bring the situation under control the progress committee recommended already at the beginning of 2018 the establishment of a program bureau and the appointment of a program manager. Its task would be building up the organization in the prison and the detention chain, realizing the construction of a new prison and keeping the existing facilities functional until the new prison is ready.

Past recommendations pleaded on several occasions for immediate action but they fell with subsequent ministers of justice on deaf ears. Other recommendations spoke of the need for a detention system focused on the decrease of recidivism and solid agreements about the establishment of the function books for the police, the National Detective Agency and the prison. The committee already gave a positive advice about these function books in 2015 when the labor unions were also in agreement with their content. Up to now the function books are still a work in (little) progress.

The despair from the progress committee also appears from a recommendation in its most recent report: “The committee recommends again to the ministerial consultation to discuss the detention situation together in all openness, to establish what both countries want to achieve, what has to be done to achieve this, who the best party is to do it and how mutual efforts and obligations can be recorded.”


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