SINT MAARTEN (POINT BLANCHE) – After several requests during meetings with Justice Minister V.C. de Weever over the past nine months, and especially after hearing damning reports about conditions at the Police Detention Cells and Point Blanche Prison, National Alliance (NA) Members of Parliament (MP) Silveria Jacobs and MP Jurendy Doran were finally issued a tour of both facilities on Friday July 12 coordinated by staffers of the Justice cabinet and senior Prison guards, an NA press statement said on Monday.
The tour commenced at the Philipsburg Police Detention Cells and then moved on to the Point Blanche Prison, where MPs, after going through the necessary security procedures, were briefed by Prison Guards and given the much-anticipated tour. While a portion of the police detention area has been renovated, some 8 cells in the older section are still rendered unfit to be used due to plumbing issues which cause a stench.
It is clear why detainees cannot be held there for extended periods of time. MPs are extremely concerned about the shortage of guards at this location and will seek further dialogue on remedying this in the interest of safety and health of all concerned, especially the guards themselves. It is clear that guards are executing a very necessary service in the Justice Chain and not under the best circumstances. Clear cut policy and procedures must also be finalized in order to avoid situations getting out of control.
At the Point Blanche Prison, MPs were shown most of the areas of the prison. They were also explained that there were many challenges, and that a new prison is indeed necessary. Some of the facilities appeared quite primitive, and again, a shortage of personnel appears to be a major bottleneck. The short training period for the new guards are a concern as well. Most guard encountered appeared in good spirits and were glad that their situation has the attention of the elected representatives.
The amenities at the PBP, including a classroom, library, canteen, sick bay, nurse and outer free space area, are available to the prisoners and detainees, however it is clear that especially the classroom is underused, and supplies are needed in various areas. While indicating that classes were available, MPs will be sending more specific questions in writing to the Minister pertaining to education and training opportunities and the number of prisoners currently enrolled in different classes being offered to gage its effectiveness as prisoners have claimed that little or no classes are offered.
It is clear that though circumstances may have improved marginally at the prison, which was already in a deplorable state pre-Hurricanes Irma and Maria, is in dire need of continued improvement. There is a whole lot that needs to be done to improve the living and working conditions of the detainees and staff. Clear cut procedures, needed personnel, upgraded/new facilities are indeed a must in the short, medium and long term.
The container solution for housing during the planned reconstruction must be properly analyzed, and solutions to address personnel and material shortage must be proactive before further violence and other violations occur. It is also noteworthy to mention that the Director of the Prison, though in attendance at the time of the tour, did not deem it fit to meet the visiting MPs nor apprise of his plans. This is considered very disrespectful to the elected MPs who were carrying out their duties in representing the people of St. Maarten.
NA MPs Jacobs and Doran, while appreciative of the opportunity to first hand witness the state of these facilities, will continue to dialogue, write letters and request meetings to get direct answers from those in management and the Minister to garner a better sense of the plans moving forward, what can be realistically achieved and in what timeframe. The seriousness of the conditions at the Point Blanche Prison has the attention of the Members of Parliament.