Published On: Thu, Feb 23rd, 2023

Lack of prison capacity leaves dozens of criminals on the streets

PHILIPSBURG — There are 136 current verdicts, Minister of Justice Anna Richardson told the parliamentary Justice Committee recently. This means that 136 criminals who have a prison sentence to their name, are still waiting to serve that sentence. This is due to the lack of capacity at the Pointe Blanche prison.

The prison currently has forty cells with a maximum occupancy of two inmates per cell. Minister Richardson said that it is “a sad reality” that verdicts are outpacing the available detention capacity. This is due to measures aimed at tackling capacity issues, the minister explained.

These measures limit the capacity to two inmates per cell and promote the use of alternative detention facilities, like the Miss Lalie Center that was reopened in 2019. The justice department also uses monitoring with electronic ankle bracelets and early release once an inmate meets certain criteria.

The justice ministry meets frequently with prison management, the public prosecutor’s office and the parole board “to assess the situation and to decide on the most appropriate measures.”

Photo Caption: Justice Minister Anna E. Richardson meeting with Progress Committee SXM.

Minister Richardson has explored options to send undocumented inmates back to their country of origin to serve the remainder of their sentences there, combined with a ban on returning to St. Maarten for a number of years.

Those options run into trouble with the lack of treaties with other countries. If there is no treaty, St. Maarten depends on the willingness of other countries to cooperate. “A prison sentence must work as a deterrent for crime in St. Maarten and victims of crimes must know that justice is being served,” Richardson said.

The minister has consulted with kingdom partners on more than one occasion about transferring inmates to other parts of the kingdom. “Unfortunately, this is St. Maarten’s problem to solve,” she remarked.

Photo Caption: UNOPS delegation visiting St. Maarten.

The partnership with UNOPS (United Nations Office of Project Services) offers a solution in the long term. UNOPS is involved in the project for the construction of a new prison. To this end, the Pointe Blanche prison will be demolished and inmates will have to be incarcerated at a transitional facility. Minister Richardson wants that facility to have more capacity than the current prison. Phase one of the new prison project will take around twenty months. At the end of that phase, a transitional facility will have been procured, according to UNOPS.

StMaartenNews.com has approached the public prosecutor’s office with questions about current sentences but it did not receive satisfactory answers.

The Prosecutor’s Office only replied that it is “by the nature of its function, constantly dealing with cases in general and awaiting verdicts, in the Court in First Instance or at the appeals court.”

Asked how many politicians are still waiting for the execution of their verdicts, the reply was that the Prosecutor’s Office “does not catalogue its cases based on the profession or the standing of a person.” For this reason, the Prosecutor’s Office said it was unable to indicate how many convicted politicians are on the waiting list.

Statements made by Minister Richardson during the Justice committee-meeting offer a different perspective, saying that out of the 87 inmates that call the Pointe Blanche prison their home at the moment, 24 are undocumented, half are first-time offenders, 11 are between the ages of 18 and 25 and four inmates are close to serving 2/3 of their sentences.