SINT MAARTEN (POINT BLANCHE) - On Monday, April 26th, 2021, the Minister of Justice, Ms. Anna E. Richardson, along with her support staff, met with the Director of the Foundation Judicial Institutes Sint Maarten (SJIB), Ms. Cynthia Filemon and Managing Director of Projects, Consultancy & Management International (PCMI), Mr. Robert Budike to discuss the reintroduction of inmate development programmes at the Point Blanche Prison and House of Detention. Minister Richardson has made clear her commitment to supporting the establishment of programmes and activities through which inmates, who are currently serving time at the prison, can further develop themselves and be provided the right tools that will help the build an honest life upon release. “It’s important that when inmates leave the prison that they are able to leave knowing that they have something to help them move on. Development programmes are essential in providing them with the skills and knowledge that they can leave here with and be able to use to further their lives.”
The discussion covered a number of proposals, one being the reintroduction of the ‘Inmate Entrepreneurship Programme’ which was introduced in 2007. The programme was first introduced as a collaborative effort between SJIB and the Probation Department with the purpose of supporting both current inmates and persons who have recently been released. According to the Director of SJIB, since the establishment of this programme, it was executed once and was proven to be a success. The Director went on to state that: “Former inmates who had undergone the programme have since then shown great strides by becoming business owners and applying the skills that they have learned.” The full programme has a duration of one year in which each inmate will go through the various courses with the proper support needed to complete it. “Although many of the inmates may have dropped out of high school, they show potential and that can be developed with the right support and guidance”, stated the Director.
As a push to provide a variety of development programmes and courses to the inmates, there were further discussions held regarding a QuickBooks course. The interest from the inmates in this course was established on the basis of a survey which was distributed amongst the inmates to identify their level of education, their knowledge of the course and its skills, along with the general interest of the prison population. Based on the survey, thirty-three (33) inmates have expressed interest in participating in such a course. The QuickBooks course presented entails an extensive list of skills that will be developed by each inmate that participates, guaranteeing a working knowledge of QuickBooks that can be used to further themselves as future business owners and/ or employees.
Prior to this meeting held with SJIB and PCMI, the Minister Richardson received a proposal to offer the General Educational Diploma (GED) to inmates at the prison. The programme was successful in the past and reintroducing it with a more defined approach will contribute to increased participation amongst the prison population. The GED, which has an equivalency of a high school diploma, will be introduced to the inmates in a form of a presentation in order to provide all the relevant information needed such as the purpose, what it entails, and it’s benefits, so that inmates can make an informed decision.
While the possibilities of providing the abovementioned opportunities at the prison are being explored, an assessment in the form of a survey, has been distributed amongst the inmates to discover the level of importance of the courses by inmates, along with an indication of possible registrants per programme. Minister Richardson has stated that “it is not only important to have these programmes available, but it’s also important to know that they will be taken advantage of.” It was suggested by the Minister to reach out to former inmates who have benefited from these programmes as a way to positively influence the current inmates as to what these programmes can do for their future.
Minister Richardson added that while these theoretical programmes were being looked into, activities that allow inmates to physically do more is also a point of development. “Working out on a regular is something that is of high interest to the inmates. Fitness is an essential part of their lives and a way to keep themselves busy, among other things. We are currently in discussions with a consultant to identify the best and safest equipment that can be purchased to create a new and improved workout space for the inmates.”
According to Minister Richardson, the need for the reintroduction and introduction of these programmes not only serves as a positive development tool for the inmates, but also acts as a deterrent from succumbing to the same negative environment and pressures when inmates are released.
Minister Richardson has expressed her ambition, stating that she hopes to achieve high attendance of these programmes by the inmates. “These programmes provide opportunities for a proper rehabilitation process. When inmates are released, they should be able to have the means to provide for themselves and not have to fall back into their old lifestyle.”, stated the Minister.
Further discussions are planned to be held regarding the results of the assessment and to further discuss a plan of approach in implementing these programmes.