PHILIPSBURG:--- Conditions at St. Maarten’s Point Blanche prison facility continues to be a source of grave concerns. So says the Law Enforcement Council, following completion of a report presented on the 13th of January, last. As of Friday, 24th of February the report will be publicly available.
Prior to launching the latest inspection, the Council had already expressed its concerns regarding several aspects related to safety, security and general conditions at the facility. Incidents such as the escape of an inmate and the murder of another inmate were clear indications that the situations encountered were not the reason for optimism.
In September of 2016, the Law Enforcement Council announced three inspections of the detention facility, based upon a joint request made by the respective justice ministers within the Dutch Kingdom (‘JVO’) to monitor the recommendations made by the CPT (the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and inhumane or degrading treatment).
The first inspection was conducted in October 2016, followed by its report that was presented to the Minister of Justice in January.
In this latest report, the Council inspected the legal status of prisoners, based on nine national and international criteria. In general, the Council concludes that the legal status of prisoners is not, or is not sufficiently, guaranteed in the Pointe Blanche prison and remand center. The Council stresses that, in the short term, the focus should be on the various topics that need to be addressed to meet the minimal requirements of acceptable standards.
The Council concludes, with the necessary regret, that the situation has only become worse since the findings of its report completed in 2014.
The Council additionally inspected key aspects related to prison personnel and of the organization itself. The shortage of personnel, lack of training, lack of communication, an integrity policy which is still in draft form, the lack of a clear direction of the prison and the role of the employees overall, all have an adverse effect on the functioning of the organization and a negative effect on the quality of the primary process of detention. Basic necessities that are essential for the closed setting of a prison are missing. These include a functional wall around the prison area, functional locks as well as safety equipment to be used while working. The Council, basically, found various shortcomings of conditions and resources that a prison organization requires to ensure a healthy living and working environment, for inmates and personnel respectively.
In its report, the Law Enforcement Council also incorporated the 13 recommendations made by the CPT in 2015, for the explicit purpose of contributing to compliance with international standards and much-needed improvements. The Council concludes that the country of Sint Maarten has virtually not acted on any of the CPT’s recommendations.
It should be obvious that the non-compliance with minimal national and international standards and regulations, and all difficulties which the prison is facing, go far beyond the reach of that organization and perhaps even the country itself. Beyond this, the Council stresses that the serious consequences of these issues do not only imply the responsibilities of the country of St. Maarten but those of the Dutch Kingdom as well.
Following its most recent endeavors, the Council has made 18 recommendations, including one to follow-up on the CPT’s recommendations, earlier mentioned.
The Council has had constructive meetings with the minister of Justice regarding the precarious situation at the Point Blanche detention facility.
While the attention needed by government, has often been sporadic and not led to decisive action, the Council encourages that the prison is currently one of the top priorities of the minister of Justice.
With its reports and recommendations as well as with ongoing dialogue about the prison, the Council strives to contribute to a proper functioning of the institution and encourages all actions and measures taken towards (further) structural improvement.
The Council will, in this regard, continue to monitor initiatives spearheaded by the minister of Justice.
The Council expects to produce the final 2 reports (Internal /external safety and security; Rehabilitation and Treatment) of the threefold inspection by April upcoming.
This first report, as well as all other reports of inspections conducted by the Council, can be found on the Council’s official website in the St. Maarten section on www.raadrechtshandhaving.com