Members of the St. Maarten Progress Committee Nico Schoof (left) and Michel Marijnen (right) in conversation with Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Chris van Dam (centre) after a law enforcement hearing with experts in December last year.
THE HAGUE–The St. Maarten Progress Committee has made no less than 32 recommendations in the past five years to improve the poor situation at the Pointe Blanche prison. Very few improvements have been realised and the work on the prison building that has been done, yielded little to no benefit for inmates or personnel.
On the request of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations, and in particular Member of Parliament (MP) Chris van Dam of the governing Christian Democratic Party CDA, the St. Maarten Progress Committee has drafted an overview of the advices and conclusions that it has rendered regarding the Pointe Blanche prison from 2016 up till now.
On April 1, the Progress Committee sent the overview to Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops and St. Maarten Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs. This week, the document which presents the situation in a very matter-of-fact manner, was made public. The document was meant in preparation of a general debate in the Second Chamber on April 24, which was deferred due to the corona crisis.
Five years ago, early 2016, the Progress Committee, established in 2010 with the new constitutional relations, was already sombre about continuing its efforts to push for improvements at the prison, simply because there was no substantial progress. And, that continues to be the case.
“Continuing in the current manner makes little sense because the necessary preconditions are not being met. The major factors being the lack of support from the St. Maarten Ministry of Justice, insufficient funding and scarce labour capacity to tackle the problems at the prison,” stated Progress Committee Chairman Nico Schoof in the current letter about the situation in 2016.
Pointing out that the prison would not be able to become an adequate institution on its own, the Progress Committee advised to get external temporary support and to draft a serious plan. Little happened with that plan, and in September 2017 Hurricanes Irma and Maria severely damaged the already shaky prison structure. Only part of the building remained usable and half of the inmates were transferred to Curaçao and the Netherlands, where most remain until this day. A new detention plan was drafted in 2018. The Committee strongly urges to execute this plan.
Because substantial improvements to the detention situation have been lacking, the Progress Committee has drafted many advices, no less than 32 since 2016. The lack of leadership and capacity at the St. Maarten Ministry of Justice was one of the most significant conclusions of the Committee.
The poor functioning ministry hampers prison management because all authorities in the areas of personnel and finances are in the hands of the Justice minister. Decisions are not taken and important documents are lost. To make matters worse: the prison director was recently removed from his position and there is no adequate management team to run the facility. According to the Committee, a programme manager and programme bureau need to be appointed for the construction of a new prison.
A second major conclusion of the progress Committee was that St. Maarten is not able to solve the detention issue without outside assistance. “Expertise and manpower are lacking; massive support from the Netherlands is necessary,” Chairman Schoof stated. However, so far only incidental assistance has been requested and provided.
“Now, two and a half years after the hurricanes, the Committee concludes that even though some (reconstruction) work has been executed, the situation in the prison has not improved for personnel and inmates. Not even a start has been made with the execution of the detention plan, the new plan of approach.”