POINT BLANCHE – Recent deteriorating developments in the Sint Maarten’s only prison seem more worrisome than before, this according to the Law Enforcement Council.
In the aftermath of the escape of a prisoner in February 2016 and the most recent incident of August 2016 during which a prisoner inmate was murdered by a fellow-inmate with a firearm, is reason for additional serious concerns. Questions about the safety and security not only of the personnel and the prisoners, but as well as society as a whole have been raised publicly, notes the Council.
In October 2016 the Law Enforcement Council will initiate the first of three inspections of the Point Blanche detention facility, all to be conducted through May 2017. In 2015 the consultative platform for the respective Ministers of Justice within the Dutch Kingdom (“JVO”) jointly requested the Council to monitor the follow-up of the recommendations made by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT).
In the timeframe between the preceding inspections that were conducted in 2013 and 2014, and its preparations towards the upcoming inspections, the Council has already noted several bottlenecks.
The Council inspected the safety within the prison facility in 2014. During that inspection it also investigated a violent incident whereby a firearm was used but malfunctioned, followed by sharp objects being used to severely injure one of the inmates.
Immediately thereafter, the then Minister of Justice requested the council to include that incident in the 2014 inspection report on safety within the facility.
Findings, conclusions and recommendations can be found in said report as posted on the Law Enforcement Council’s website, www.raadrechtshandhaving.com.
At the time, the Council already expressed its concerns and pessimism regarding the precarious situation at the prison. Many findings in this study were consistent with what had been previously discovered and included in numerous reports dating to as far back as 2005. The Council noted that previous reports on findings and recommendations had often not led to an actual addressing of the shortcomings.
In its own study, the Council reiterated its impression of the great dedication of those who keep the institutions running, under very difficult circumstances.
The Council found that three main factors affect the security and safety within the prison: understaffing as well as the quality and integrity of personnel. The Council concluded that there is a lack of attention for many serious challenges, notwithstanding that the integral support and commitment of the government is mandatory.
The Council presented no less than 15 recommendations to contribute to improvements. It emphasizes that real effect, however, is only achieved when this multifaceted issue is approached integrally. The scope and dimension of the problem and the extent to which it has been consequently lagging behind in following up on findings and recommendations, were (are) not a reason to be optimistic in any way. The Council referred to its doubts whether the situation could be substantially improved without the assistance from the Kingdom partners.
A year before (in 2013), an inspection report was published on the capacity of the facility, which indicated the shortcomings in that respect. The calculation made by the Council resulted in an indication that on Sint Maarten (in 2013) there was a need for a minimum of 251 cell locations. Presently the capacity reaches no more than 143 (43% under the minimum).
The Council endorsed what other research had already confirmed on various occasions: creating of detention places is not the greatest problem, but the maintenance of a proper level of treatment is. This is so because not only do extra cells have to be provided for, but well trained personnel and adequate treatment of detainees is also required. The Council concluded its report with 4 recommendations for improvement, including one to comply with (inter-)national legal provisions and standards.
In the meantime, the Council has encountered discussion on the same issues and problems on several occasions, the last time in April 2016 during the Justice conference on the Plans of Approach (dating back from 2010) for the Pointe Blanche detention facility. The conclusions of said conference have been presented to government at the time.
Pursuant to the Kingdom Act on the Law Enforcement Council, all reports, including an executive summary, can be found on the website of the Council: www.raadrechtshandhaving.com.