Published On: Tue, Mar 21st, 2023

Court orders termination of Pointe Blanche prison strike

PHILIPSBURG -- The mass strike of inmates at Pointe Blanche prison, since January 6, 2023, has ended. The judge ordered the Pointe Blanche Inmates Association on Friday to instruct its members to resume their assigned duties at the prison, subject to a penalty of 1,000 guilders per day if this order is not followed.

The judge considered it plausible that the strike, which lasted ten weeks, significantly disrupted the course of events in the prison and increased the workload of the prison guards. Their workload was already high as a result of high and long-term absenteeism of the majority of the total of 30 prison guards.

While the inmates refused to leave their cells to cook and deliver meals, they were in fact sabotaging the normal functioning of the prison, attorney Aernout Kraaijeveld argued on behalf of prison director Steven Carty. The prison management was forced to hire a catering company. However, with only two or three prison guards per shift, distributing meals was problematic. When delivered to detainees, hot meals had already gone cold.

Long waits for lunch and dinner and unhygienic conditions in the cells, this the prisoners had brought upon themselves by striking, stated the prison management. Inmates experiencing a sense of insecurity in prison is also said to be due to disobedience and defiance of detainees.

According to the prison director, the strike did not have the support of all inmates. Strikebreakers and would-be strikebreakers would have been threatened by other detainees, including board members of the Pointe Blanche Inmates Association. The strike posed a threat to national security or at least the safety of the detainees, Carty said. "The help of the police had to be called in once to get groups of detainees back in their cells."

The inmates, represented by attorney Sjamira Roseburg, said their strike was prompted by insecurity in the prison due to a limited staffing of guards and a lack of medical care. The Pointe Blanche Inmates Association asked the court to order the government to ensure that there is a minimum of six prison guards per shift, with three 8-hour shifts per 24 hours scheduled.

The court agreed that the government is responsible for security in the prison and that the question is whether that security is currently sufficiently guaranteed. “Another question is what can be required of government to give substance to this,” the judge said, indicating that the inmates' claim was based on what they themselves deemed desirable, and not on a legal rule. “It has not been substantiated that the number of six guards per shift is necessary to guarantee security.”

According to the judge, it was unrealistic of the inmates to think that the problem that exists with regard to guards can be solved immediately or in the short term.

As for the second claim of the Pointe Blanche Inmates Association, the judge ruled in favor of the inmates stressing the necessity of a medical examination when a suspect or convict is sent to Pointe Blanche prison. Inmates who have not undergone medical screening at the Philipsburg Police Station prior to arrival at the prison must be seen by a medical doctor within the first 24 hours of their incarceration., the judge ordered.

The judge furthermore ruled that all detainees are entitled to prompt and adequate medical care during their stay in prison. How quickly the medical staff should respond to a report of a medical complaint depends on all the circumstances of the case. “It is not possible to lay down a general rule with regard to the time frame,” the judge concluded, stating that medical personnel should treat a patient “as soon as possible”.

In closing the Court stated that it understands the inmates' apparent impatience given that they live in prison. In case of conflicts of interest, detainees have the right to act collectively, including to strike, the judge explained. “The protection of the right to strike is aimed at guaranteeing the effective exercise of the right to collective bargaining.” However, the Court concluded that the strike organized by the Pointe Blanche Inmates Association no longer served that purpose.

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