THE HAGUE–The St. Maarten government, Dutch Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker and State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops signed an agreement on October 19, in which St. Maarten commits to execute a series of measures on the short term to significantly improve the state of the Pointe Blanche Prison, paid for by the local government.
Knops stated this in a letter to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Wednesday in response to written questions of Member of Parliament (MP) Nevin Özütok of the green left party GroenLinks regarding the October report of the Law Enforcement Council about the St. Maarten prison.
On the initiative of Minister Dekker and State Secretary Knops, a series of meetings took place with the St. Maarten government since late September which resulted in the signing of an agreement on October 19.
It was agreed that St. Maarten will reserve the necessary space in its budget to pay for the execution of a number of improvement measures at the prison which is in a bad state of repair and where there are also great issues with understaffing. “It is up to St. Maarten to turn this agreement into tangible actions and to report on this. This is a pre-requisite for possible additional Dutch technical assistance,” stated Knops.
The state secretary said he recognised the conclusions of the Law Enforcement Council that the Pointe Blanche Prison doesn’t function as it should and that basic things that are indispensable for a closed setting of a prison have been lacking for quite a while or are not being tackled by St. Maarten.
The Law Enforcement Council again concluded that St Maarten systematically doesn’t follow up on the recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhumane or Degrading Treatment CPT. “I also recognise this pattern. Of course, the situation became more complex after Hurricane Irma. But the Council shows that the majority of the problems dates from before Irma.”
According to Knops, it is up to Country St. Maarten to minimise safety risks for the community, for example by investing in re-socialisation of prisoners. A basic programme for the prisoners can be introduced when further reconstruction work on the prison building is realised and the staffing manpower is brought up to par.
The state secretary explained that after Hurricane Irma, the Dutch government provided assistance for the prison from the reconstruction funds. Conditions were attached to this assistance. “I have repeatedly urged St. Maarten in the past year to stick to these agreements. However, I have had to conclude again that St. Maarten did not, or not entirely, stick to these agreements within the set timeframe.”
Responding to MP Özütok’s questions about possible measures of the Kingdom government to ensure that laws and regulations are lived up to where it regards the prison, Knops noted that prison detention affairs are a responsibility of autonomous Country St. Maarten and that it is a responsibility of the country itself to make sure that laws and regulations are adhered to.
“The use of the guarantee function of the Kingdom Charter is an ultimate remedy. The guarantee task of the Kingdom can only come into play when no redress is possible in St. Maarten of an intolerable situation regarding human rights, legal security or good governance, and all less extreme possibilities to take measures have yielded no or insufficient results. That is currently not the case,” stated Knops, who referred to the October 19 agreement.
The state secretary reported that in the meantime the St. Maarten Council of Ministers has approved a series of improvement measures for the short term, which are the result of a plan of approach that was drafted mid-September by an expert team of the Netherlands Judicial Institutions Service DJI on the request of the St. Maarten government. Budget amendments will be necessary to execute this plan, which was financed from Dutch reconstruction funds.