Published On: Thu, Nov 15th, 2018

Government promises – again – to improve situation at Pointe Blanche prison

Point Blanche Prison

PHILIPSBURG – The government signed an agreement with State Secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) on October 19 to “shortly introduce a series of measures to improve the state of the Pointe Blanche prison.”

This appears from answers Knops provided to questions posed by GreenLeft parliamentarian Nevin Özütok.

Knops’ answers show that St. Maarten has repeatedly failed to stick to agreements it made in the past with the Netherlands about the prison.

“After Hurricane Irma, the Netherlands has provided assistance for the prison from the reconstruction funds. There were agreements attached to this assistance and during the past year I have urged St. Maarten repeatedly to stick to these agreements,” Knops writes.

But correspondence with St. Maarten and a ministerial consultation that took place on September 4 made clear that St Maarten “did not, not completely or not within the agreed upon terms” abide by these agreements.

This inspired Knops and the Dutch Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus to initiate further consultations with the government of St. Maarten. This has resulted in new promises that measures will be taken “shortly.”

“St. Maarten had indicated that it will reserve space in its budget to finance these measures,” Knops writes in his answers to Özütok.. “It is up to St. Maarten to turn these agreements into tangible actions and to report about this. This is a condition for possible further Dutch technical assistance.”

Knops acknowledges in his answers that he is familiar with a report by the Law Enforcement Council. The conclusion in this report is that Pointe Blanche does not function properly and that facilities that are indispensable for the closed setting of a prison have been missing for quite some time or that St. Maarten does not get things in order.

The Council establishes that St. Maarten structurally does not follow up on its recommendations and those of the CPT (the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture).

“I recognize this pattern,” Knops writes. “The situation has obviously become more complex because the prison was hit by Hurricane Irma a year ago. Nevertheless the Council shows that the larger part of these problems already existed before Irma. It is up to country St. Maarten to minimize the security and safety risks for the community, for instance by investing in rehabilitation. By further repairing the building and by bringing the staffing levels up to par it will become possible to introduce a day program.”

It must be noted that according to the latest available data the Pointe Blanche prison has 107 staff members on the payroll and that only 50 of them are actually working.

Özütok’s suggestion to activate article 43 of the Kingdom Charter – the so-called guarantee function – falls for now on deaf ears with State Secretary Knops.

“The detention system is the responsibility of the country St. Maarten and the country is also responsible for the maintenance of law and order. Activating the guarantee function is an ultimum remedium. It only becomes an issue if there is no redress possible to correct unacceptable situations in the fields of human rights, legal security or good governance after all less heavy-handed measures to take measures have not yielded any, or insufficient, results.”

According to Knops this is not the case with the situation at the Pointe Blanche prison. The State Secretary refers to the agreement the government signed on October 19 and to the fact that the Council of Ministers in Philipsburg in the meantime has approved the intended measures. There is a new plan of approach; its execution requires amendments to the 2018 budget.

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Related article:
Promises, promises” by Hilbert Haar