St. Maarten Govt moving too slowly on prison issue

THE HAGUE–Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk shares the view of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament that the St. Maarten Government is doing too little to solve the urgent issues at the Pointe Blanche prison.

The Minister stated this in a letter to the Second Chamber earlier this week, in response to written questions of Member of Parliament (MP) Ronald van Raak of the Socialist Party (SP), submitted mid-February.

Van Raak had asked Plasterk whether he shared the broad concerns about the safety at the prison and the lack of action by the local government. The MP also wanted to know what measures the Minister planned to take to improve the situation at the prison and to better secure the safety of the St. Maarten people.

“I share the concerns,” stated Plasterk, who referred to the October 2016 report of the St. Maarten Progress Committee and the December 2016 report of the Law Enforcement Council. Both reports pointed out the severity of the situation at the penitentiary facility.

According to the Minister, the Law Enforcement Council concluded that the prison was “still far away” from being compliant with (inter)national legislation. “The Council indicated that the attention by the administration that is needed often seems spur-of-the- moment and does not lead to action.”

The Minister quoted the Law Enforcement Council as stating that it was “obvious that the problems that the prison is facing go far beyond the reach of that organisation and with which the prison can cope.”

The Council further concluded: “Even basic things that are essential for the closed setting of a prison are missing: a functional wall around the prison, functioning locks and working safety equipment, two things that the organisation of the prison needs to ensure a healthy living and working environment.”

According to the Council, the findings and conclusions in the inspection that it carried out posed “a serious threat to the rule of law.” The Council also pointed out the “serious consequences of these problems for the country St. Maarten and the Kingdom as a whole.”

Plasterk agreed with Van Raak that the St. Maarten did too little to remedy the situation at the prison, but he did remind the MP that St. Maarten had its own responsibility in this area as an autonomous country within the Kingdom.

The Kingdom Government has been involved from the sidelines. Due to the lack of progress, the 2010 General Measure of the Kingdom Government to monitor some of St. Maarten’s justice entities, including the prison and police force, was prolonged in 2016, for a third time.

The Dutch penitentiary authority DJI assisted to arrive at concrete improvement plans for the Pointe Blanche prison during a conference in April last year. The Ministry of Security and Justice V&J, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations BZK also provided input.

So far, this action plan has not been executed by the St. Maarten Government. Plasterk stated that St. Maarten has been reminded of the absent measures during the consultations of The Hague with the island.

“I am of the opinion that the St. Maarten Government has to stick to its promises and to enable the executing services, including the prison, to implement the necessary improvements,” stated the Minister, who added that the Progress Committee and the Law Enforcement Council were very clear about the urgent need for measures.

The Dutch Government remains willing to assist, bearing in mind St. Maarten’s own responsibility. Agreements on the financial aspect and the presence of a “real perspective on structural improvement” are a condition for this assistance.

“The first logical step is that the St. Maarten Government embraces the improvement plan which has been jointly developed by the executing services of St. Maarten and the Netherlands, and to quickly proceed with the realisation of the improvements,” stated Plasterk.  

Source: The Daily Herald