Published On: Sun, Mar 15th, 2020

Pointe Blanche prison remains a major headache

Foto TIM VAN DIJK

PHILIPSBURG – Inmates at the Pointe Blanche prison have finally had enough. A group of 37 inmates is going to court on Friday, March 20, in an attempt to force the authorities to relocate them to prison facilities in the Netherlands or on Bonaire. This should not surprise anyone: according to the inmates St. Maarten is unable to guarantee their safety in Pointe Blanche; they also say – not for the first time – that the conditions under which they have to live are inhuman. How did it get so far?

The deplorable conditions in Pointe Blanche have a long history. The same can be said for the government’s failure to do something about it, in spite of countless recommendations made by the Progress Committee.

Shortly after Hurricane Irma hit St. Maarten in September 2017, destroying a good part of the prison in the process, the Progress Committee visited the island. In its 28th progress report, the committee notes that there were 70 inmates, guarded by just 27 wardens working three shifts.

The conclusion at the time: “The prison-building has been severely damaged and is no longer fit to lock up inmates for a longer period of time.” The report mentions $3 million as the estimated costs for repairs.

Three progress reports later, the situation had deteriorated even further. In its 31st report, the committee sounded the alarm loud and clear, stating that the situation at the prison was so bad that it put the safety of the population at risk. This report was published more than a year ago, in February 2019.

The committee put the blame squarely at the government’s door: “From the government in St. Maarten there is little to no movement; the minister does nothing with the committee’s advices.”

In September of last year, a shipment of eleven container cells arrived in St. Maarten from Bonaire where they were no longer needed. The cells have a capacity to house more than thirty inmates. But earlier this month it appeared that, almost half a year after their arrival, nothing has been done to put the container cells to good use.

Media reports suggested last month that this is due to a lack of personnel and infrastructure; to supervise inmates in these cells, Pointe Blanche needs an additional guard tower as well as additional guards.

The capacity of the Point Blanche prison, the condition of the building, the quantity and quality of the staff is in very poor condition, which in the committee’s opinion means that there are irresponsible detention conditions, which pose a real security risk to society.

In October 2018, a plan of action was adopted, called ‘A safe society: Building a responsible and sustainable sanction implementation on Sint Maarten (2018-2023)’. This detention plan must be made operational and actually implemented. So far, as it regards to the execution of that plan, no more has been done than damage repairs from the 2017 hurricanes.

The Progress Committee urges both parties – St. Maarten and the Netherlands – to discuss the detention situation among all stakeholders thoroughly and in a transparent manner, to establish what needs to be done, what measures need to be in place to make things happen, who all should be involved and to establish a comprehensive documentation of all efforts and obligations of all parties involved in the process.

Photo caption: Pointe Blanche prison. Photo Tim van Dijk.

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Related links:
Letter to Minister of BZK requesting reports Progress Committee Sint Maarten
35th report Progress Committee Sint Maarten