Published On: Fri, Jan 22nd, 2021

Progress Committee: Situation at prison gloomier than in 2010

PHILIPSBURG — More than three years after Hurricane Irma there are still 21 inmates from St. Maarten housed in prisons in the Netherlands. This appears from the 38th Progress Committee report. Per January 20 of this year this represents a cost of more than €3.6 million ($4.3 million or 7.8 million guilders) to the government of St. Maarten. According to the report there is “no perspective” for the return of these inmates to the troubled Pointe Blanche prison.

The Progress Committee’s report covers the period July 1 – October 1, 2020. Currently there are 77 inmates in Pointe Blanche, while there are 88 staff members who serve at the prison and at the youth detention facility, the Miss Lalie Center. However, approximately 50 percent of these people are on sick leave. Five inmates are under electronic supervision; the maximum capacity for this system is 10.

The Progress Committee, chaired by Nico Schoof, notes that the situation at the prison is “gloomy, even gloomier than it was at the start of the committee on 10-10-10.” But the committee also picked up some positive signals. The acting prison director and the head of the management department “have been able to convince the committee of their actions to bring the prison as good as possible in line with the recommendations of the inspection and advisory committees (the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Punishment [CPT], the Law Enforcement Council and the Progress Committee).”

An emergency training for 40 members of the Voluntary Corps St. Maarten (VKS) in dealing with inmates, the start of a rehabilitation program and the deployment of inmates in the kitchen and for repairs to the Simpson Bay location are activities that have properly impressed the committee. “It is a long time ago that the committee saw so much activity in the prison. Admittedly it is not always as it should be (the deployment of paramilitary personnel) but there is an attempt to do what needs to be done under difficult circumstances. The committee appreciates that approach.”

In September 2019 – sixteen months ago – the navy support vessel Hr. Ms. (His Majesty’s) Pelikaan delivered eleven cell-containers from Bonaire to St. Maarten. The idea was to place these containers in the prison yard and to enable the return of inmates from the Netherlands. But the Progress Committee notes in its report that this project is at a standstill.

One-and-a-half year ago the committee advised for the first time to appoint a program manager tasked with the planning and execution of the detention plan. The Dutch Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations has allocated funding for this function, but there is still no perspective for an appointment.

The Committee notes that this is “the most crucial function for the execution of the detention plan. Its main objective is to strongly reduce repeat offenses. This will affect the necessary size of the new prison.”

That quite some of the recommendations the Progress Committee made over the years keep falling on deaf ears at the Justice Ministry appears from an overview of advices that are still waiting for action. An example is the suggestion to reorganize the Ministry of Justice and to clean up its staffing. “This is a prerequisite for the successful execution of the plans at the police and the prison.”