POINTE BLANCHE–Inmates of the Pointe Blanche prison are again on strike, demanding better living conditions at the house of detention. The strike started on Monday, May 25.
As part of the strike, inmates have refused to do any form of labour within the prison, such as washing, cleaning and cooking activities. These tasks must now be done exclusively by prison personnel.
The resumption of the strike follows two altercations earlier this month during which inmates were injured in fights with other inmates. The first occurred on May 17 and the latest took place on Monday, May 25, and led to one inmate being cut with an improvised weapon. The injuries he sustained were so severe that he had to be transferred to St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) for treatment.
Correctional officers at the Pointe Blanche prison executed a random search on Friday, May 8, based on concerns that a weapon had been concealed in the facility. No weapons were found in this search.
“The inmates are still in fear of their lives due to the living conditions they are subjected to … and the inmates want to know what needs to happen for the government to finally take action,” said Inmates Association spokesperson attorney-at-law Sjamira Roseburg.
Roseburg also said that former prison director Alwin Keli once told her that “the safety of no prisoner can be guaranteed within the walls of this prison.”
“At least he was honest because … under these circumstances, nobody’s safety and health can be guaranteed. Clearly, the safety of inmates is not being guaranteed by the government of St. Maarten while it is their responsibility. As such, enough is enough. The strike will continue until serious changes take place to better the living and safety conditions of the prisoners,” Roseburg said.
Meanwhile, the hearings regarding the injunction filed by 37 inmates against the St. Maarten government is set to take place on June 5. Originally scheduled in March, the proceedings were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of the Courthouse.
In the injunction, the inmates are calling on the court to have them transferred to safe detention facilities in the Netherlands or in Bonaire within seven days after a verdict. Some of the detainees involved are being held in pre-trial detention, while others have been irrevocably convicted of crimes and are currently sitting out their sentences.
Roseburg, as well as lawyers Geert Hatzmann and Shaira Bommel, will be calling on the judge to attach daily penalties of US $1,000 per inmate with a maximum of $10 million if the government and Minister of Justice fail to comply with the verdict.
“Hopefully this will bring an end to the inhumane and unsafe situation the inmates find themselves in. They cannot wait anymore, as the prison is a ticking time-bomb,” said Roseburg.
The state of the Pointe Blanche prison has also been a focal critical point of several Dutch politicians recently.
Dutch Member of Parliament (MP) Chris van Dam of Christian Democrats CDA presented a motion to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament last Wednesday, co-signed by MPs André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party and Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party, which set structural improvement to the St. Maarten detention facilities as a condition in the next tranche of liquidity support to the country in connection with the coronavirus crisis. (See related story)
Van Dam said in April that law enforcement, especially the situation at the prison, needed to be part of the negotiations for St. Maarten to receive financial assistance from the Netherlands.
The St. Maarten government has already allocated funds in this year’s budget for the construction of a new prison. “That is a first step, because it means that there is political attention and that there is the willingness to invest in the prison,” said Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops last week.
However, there is still much improvement needed at the prison, said Knops. “If you look at the prison, then you see, aside from the damage caused by the hurricanes [in 2017 – Ed.], a much more fundamental problem with the entire justice sector. This is an issue that requires a lot of attention,” he said.
St. Maarten Justice Minister Anna Richardson said on Tuesday night that she will be presenting to Parliament and the Council of Ministers a plan to improve the detention situation. She did not disclose any details about the plan, but she said details will be given once local authorities have approved the proposal.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/inmates-again-striking-for-better-conditions