Published On: Thu, Nov 15th, 2018

Promises, promises

StMaartenNews Opinion

By Hilbert Haar

Justified complaints about the situation at the Pointe Blanche prison – by inmates but also by attorneys, the Law Enforcement Council and the Progress Committee – are almost as old as the prison itself.

Former Justice Minister Leo Chance once told me a couple of years ago jokingly that he had built the Pointe Blanche prison for his friends. “I did not know it of course at the time, but that’s where they ended up.”

It remains unclear whether the conditions in the prison were as bad at that time as they are today. The fact remains that complaints have been going on like forever. If they did not come from within the prison itself – through emails from the prison association – then you could hear them from attorneys in the court house.

Of course, the Law Enforcement Council and the Progress Committee have also sounded the alarm about the detention conditions; over and over again.

Now we have arrived at another crossroads where the kingdom has made an agreement with the government in Philipsburg to finally do something but what it is exactly that Justice Minister Cornelius de Weever has in mind remains a mystery.

State Secretary Knops, in answers to questions from GreenLeft parliamentarian Nevin Özütok, speaks of “further repairs,” the possibility to introduce a day program for inmates and a plan of approach that has been approved by the Council of Ministers.

Oh, and then there is this little detail: St. Maarten will have to pay for the measures; to make this possible requires a budget amendment.

We are approaching Christmas, and therefore the end of the year, real fast, and proposals for this budget amendment are, as far as I know, nowhere to be seen, though I will bow my head in case I overlooked something.

But even with a budget amendment St. Maarten’s track record with the Pointe Blanche prison remains shaky. Let me correct that: it is bloody awful.

The answers Knops provided to MP Özütok make painfully clear that over the past years St. Maarten has structurally ignored recommendations from the Law Enforcement Council and the Progress Committee and that it has not stuck to any agreement it ever made about improving the situation at the prison.

These days Hurricane Irma is the obvious scapegoat, but Knops notes that the majority of the problems at the prison were already there before the hurricane.

I wonder very much how Minister De Weever is going to bring staffing levels at the prison up to par “shortly.” After all, the prison has 107 employees and only 50 of them actually show up for work. I would love to see the budget amendment that solves that little problem.

My sad conclusion is that, in spite of yet another agreement, nothing will improve shortly at the prison. That is bad for the people who are behind bars but it is also bad for the 50 people who work there and for the community.

I am actually waiting for the attorney that goes to court to demand that all his clients be set free because the prison does not offer them the by law required day program. A couple of years ago, the court ordered the release of a man who was arrested as the suspect in sixteen armed robberies, for exactly this reason.

If that happens, all hell will break lose. Then we will hear once more complaints from embattled politicians about the judicial branch of government, while all the time one should look for the cause of such events at those who were elected to make sure that the conditions at the Pointe Blanche prison are beyond reproach.

Promises, promises …..how long will it take the kingdom to realize that agreements with our government are not worth the paper they are written on?

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Related article:
Government promises – again – to improve situation at Pointe Blanche prison