Court orders measures to improve prison situation

PHILIPSBURG–The Judge in the Court of First Instance on Friday ordered Country St. Maarten to take a number of measures to improve safety and security of inmates and guards at Point Blanche prison.

Represented by attorneys Sjamira Roseburg and Shaira Bommel, Point Blanche Inmates Association (PBIA) had filed an injunction in which it argued that the prison situation is very unsafe and the circumstances so poor that intervention by the Court is needed.

According to the inmates, it is urgently warranted that security measures be put in place, and that facilities and daytime activities are improved, that medical care is more widely made available, and that lawyers’ access to their clients be improved.

15 claims

To this effect, the Inmates Association filed 15 claims in total. The Court awarded eight of these claims, and attached daily fines of US $800 to each of these claims, in case of non-compliance, to a maximum of $50,000.

The Court’s evaluation of all facts and circumstances led to a number of provisions. Prison-guard shifts are to be executed by at least six prison guards in total, and shifts are not to last longer than eight hours per day. Prison guards are to receive professional training in first aid, emergency response, communication and motivation.

Inmates are to follow an educational programme, starting with the young adults. Inmates are to be timely informed of their release date. A public telephone, a laundry room with washing machine, and library books are to be provided.

Furthermore, arrangements are to be made for a dentist to regularly visit the prison, similar to visits by a family doctor. Medical cost for referrals to a medical specialist are to be covered, similar to basic health care.

Besides, the Court ordered that lawyers be given access to their clients on Thursdays. They are to announce their visit one hour ahead of time.

The findings of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the response to these findings by Country St. Maarten, and the most recent report of the Law Enforcement Council, have played an important role in the Court’s decision.

Signals of major concern

These documents show that for the past 10 years signals of major concern about the situation in Pointe Blanche Prison have been given, and that Country St. Maarten did not keep its repeated promises to follow up on recommendations given, the Court said.

Denied, for various reasons, were the inmates’ claims pertaining to the suspension of Prison Director Edward Rohan, the holding cells at the Police Station, cell searches, two inmates in one cell, the separation of inmates, labour for women, and a 10 per cent reduction of prison time due to the inhumane situation in prison.

Most of these claims could not be awarded as these are closely connected with the overcrowded and outdated prison building. Only renovation and an extension of the current prison facilities would allow for measures to be taken to get rid of the bottlenecks in these areas.

According to Country St. Maarten, represented in the injunction by attorney-at-law Aernout Kraaijeveld, it should be left up to the Minister of Justice and the Prison’s new management team to come up with an action plan to adequately address the current “crisis” in the prison.

It is up to the Minister of Justice to set priorities without outside pressure. The Court should not take over the role of the executive branch. Many of the claims that were put forward are “unrealistic” and “too broadly formulated,” Country St. Maarten argued during the Court hearings of February 28, and of March 17.

The Court stated in its ruling that it agrees that it is not the Court’s job to manage the Prison. However, it was considered possible to demand certain measures in the injunction, due to the urgent circumstances of the case, and in taking into consideration all interests involved.

Period of normalization

“In this case, the Court had to evaluate if the situation in the Prison is so urgent and so far removed from being in accordance with the law that provisions aimed to end the unlawfulness need to be put in place. The Court to that effect carefully weighed all interests at stake and also paid attention to the degree at which the provisions can actually be executed. Furthermore, the Court has taken into consideration the “period of normalization” of three months that was repeatedly mentioned by Country St. Maarten,” the Court said.

In this light, the Court granted Country St. Maarten three months’ time to take measures, pertaining to, for instance, the prison guard workforce, shifts and training, as well as the education of young delinquents. Detainees 24 years and older should be provided with education within nine months from now.

The stipulations concerning the public phone, washing machine, a laundry room, library books, a prison dentist and lawyer visits on Thursdays also need to be implemented within three months’ time.

Detainees due for release need to be informed in writing no later than one month prior to their release date, the Court stated in the verdict. Country St. Maarten was ordered to pay the legal costs of the proceedings, which were set at NAf. 1,746.50.

Source: The Daily Herald