Improvements at prison, personnel still a concern | THE DAILY HERALD

THE HAGUE–The step-by-step improvements at St. Maarten’s Pointe Blanche Prison are positive, but investments in personnel capacity remain very necessary, according to Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops and the St. Maarten Progress Committee.

  The prison was one of the topics the State Secretary discussed with St. Maarten Minister of Justice Cornelius de Weever and Minister of Finance Perry Geerlings during his visit to the island last week.

  During that meeting, Minister de Weever thanked the Netherlands for making container cells available via Dutch Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker. Dutch Defence arranged the transport of the first 11 container cells from Bonaire to St. Maarten. The container cells will be put in use in November.

  In a letter he sent to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament last Friday, State Secretary Knops mentioned the physical improvements of the Pointe Blanche Prison where results are being booked step by step. The investments in human capital and improvements of the prison organisation, however, lag behind.

  These sentiments were shared by the Progress Committee, which during its recent visit to St. Maarten late July, early August this year, was informed by the prison director that there was still a structural shortage of personnel at the penitentiary facility.

  As a result of this capacity shortage, personnel need to work a lot of overtime, which in turn results in mistakes being made, the Progress Committee stated in its 34th report which has been sent to the Dutch Parliament. The main cause of the personnel shortage is the high rate of sick leave. The prison director is talking with different parties to try to reduce this absence.

  Despite the limited availability of personnel, the courses and daily activities of the inmates continue as much as is possible, the director informed the Progress Committee. Efforts are being made to guide inmates into the employment process. “The Committee sees that the director is working hard to normalise the regime at the prison.” The Committee also lauded the minister and his staff for realising the much-needed improvements at the prison.

  One of the top priorities of the new prison director is to increase the personnel capacity. Activities are geared towards getting personnel back at work – those on sick leave as well as those working elsewhere.

  In November, 15 new guards will be ready to work after completing their education. Twelve of them will be working at the prison, and three at Miss Lalie Centre for youth delinquents. Additional personnel will be recruited in November to replace the security now provided by the Volunteer Corps St. Maarten VKS.

  The Committee noted that there is tension between deploying the container cells and maintaining safety and humane treatment within the prison. The director expects to have about 80 per cent of the inmates who were transferred to prisons in Curaçao and the Netherlands return to St. Maarten.

  Returning these inmates, who generally have long prison terms, will become possible with the use of the container cells, which will free up space in the regular cells. The containers are being placed at the area where inmates go for fresh air, which means that inmates will have to remain longer in their cells because there will be less space for taking air. The Committee anticipates that this will increase tension in the prison.

  In its report, the Committee sought attention for the Detention Plan, a policy document to implement a holistic detention system, reduce recidivism and take preventive measures. According to the Committee, the focus, and rightfully so, has been on repairing the damage caused by Hurricane Irma and restoring the prison, which had been neglected since before the hurricane.

  The Detention Plan, which the St. Maarten and Dutch governments agreed on in October 2018, is not being executed in a serious manner, observed the Committee, which urgently advised drafting a concrete and realistic execution programme for the Detention Plan.

  “After the hurricane, the emphasis was on restoring cell capacity and reopening the delinquent youth facility. Now that phase is nearing the end, it is important to start the execution of the Detention Plan in a structural manner.”

  The success rate of this plan partly depends on the St. Maarten Ministry of Justice. The Committee again urged the Justice Minister to see to an extensive reorganisation of the Justice Ministry. “The Committee concluded that there are intentions, but that no real progress has been booked.” The Committee will visit St. Maarten again late October.   

Source: The Daily Herald