Praise for improvements in St. Maarten law enforcement | THE DAILY HERALD

One of the renovated cells at Miss Lalie Youth Care and Rehabilitation Center.

THE HAGUE–The St. Maarten Progress Committee is content with the work that St. Maarten Justice Minister Cornelius de Weever has done so far to improve the circumstances at the detention facilities. De Weever also received a compliment from Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops on Thursday.

“The Committee has gladly taken note of a number of positive developments. The Minister of Justice is clearly displaying a feeling of urgency to tackle the shortcomings in law enforcement,” the Progress Committee stated in its 33rd progress report which was sent to Prime Minister Leona Romeo-Marlin and State Secretary Knops on June 12.

“There are many activities in the area of detention and a lot is in preparation. It is clear that hard work is being done to improve the detention situation in and around the prison, and to expand the capacity,” it was stated in the report.

Despite the positive developments, law enforcement remains worrisome, the Committee concluded from the observations during its visit in May and talks with the Prosecutor’s Office and other justice partners.

“Great and long-term efforts remain necessary, not only by the Justice Minister, but also by the entire government and the Parliament. Support from the Netherlands remains imperative for a while,” stated the Committee, which in many previous reports expressed great concerns about St. Maarten’s state of law enforcement.

According to the Committee, there is still a lot of work to be done to get the situation at the prison in order. The capacity is too low, there is no room for youth delinquents, and resocialisation and rehabilitation are not on the desired level. The Committee expressed concerns about the reserving of funds on the 2019 budget to prolong the deployment of the Dutch National Police until mid-2020.

Minister De Weever confirmed in a letter to the Committee earlier this month that the funds for the National Police have been reserved, but that approval depends on the St. Maarten Parliament when it handles the draft 2019 budget shortly. He stated that after the number of personnel has been increased and the prison cells are ready, the capacity should go up to 80 male inmates and six female inmates.

The Committee gladly noted that the additional cost for the Pointe Blanche prison has been reserved in the 2019 budget: the extra personnel support at the prison, the repair cost for the buildings, the cost to house inmates in the Netherlands and Curaçao, and the recruitment of personnel in 2019.

The Committee was also content with the fact that the training of future police officers is taking place. The first batch of 16 police officers graduated in May. In September 2018, the training of a second batch of 17 persons started, and a third batch of 13 persons started in February 2019. The recruitment for a fourth class with 25 students, which should start later this year, is progressing.

“It is good to see that the education schedule is being executed and that the first certified officers are strengthening the Police Force.” The Committee noted that it remained important to keep training new officers if the desired capacity of 270 officers is to be achieved within a few years, taking into account the departure of police personnel due to age and the departure of the National Police mid-2020.

Knops complimented Minister De Weever for the improvements that have been achieved so far. “There is true improvement and concrete steps have been taken,” he said, noting that on a political level it hasn’t always been easy to get the necessary actions implemented.

Bringing law enforcement in St. Maarten to the level where it should be, remains a long-term exercise, Knops said. “We have been and will remain in close touch with St. Maarten. We will continue working together.” He pointed out that the concerns about St. Maarten’s law enforcement had existed before Hurricane Irma struck the island in September 2017, which caused a lot of damage to the prison.

Knops emphasised that law enforcement was and remained a responsibility of country St. Maarten and that as such, it had to reserve and approve sufficient funds on its budget. St. Maarten should “not lean on the Netherlands” for carrying out law enforcement.

Source: The Daily Herald