Action is direly needed for St. Maarten police and prison
THE HAGUE – Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Ronald Plasterk stated on Wednesday that he agreed with the Plans of Approach Progress Committee St. Maarten that concrete steps and financial reprioritising were needed to solve the urgent problems at the St. Maarten Police Force KPSM and the Pointe Blanche prison.
In its 23rd, most recent, report the Progress Committee “rightfully” implored the St. Maarten Government to act with speed, Plasterk stated in a letter he sent to the Dutch Parliament on Wednesday which accompanied the 22nd and 23rd reports.
In the 23rd report the Committee painted a dark picture of the Police Force, and especially of the prison. According to the Committee, “ambition, leadership and quality” are direly needed to further develop these two organisations. The severe understaffing has been causing an unsafe, risky situation, particularly at the prison.
The Plans of Approach for the KPSM and Pointe Blanche prison, which were instituted in 2010 when it was clear that the new Country St. Maarten could not assume full responsibility for a number of tasks, have been extended a third time until October 2018.
The fact that these Plans of Approach were extended for a third time said “a whole lot” about the “vigour” with which the St. Maarten Government has acted on this issue, stated Minister Plasterk in his letter.
According to Plasterk, the lack of actions of the St. Maarten Government to tackle the urgent problems at the Police Force and prison was not the same as the term “structural resistance” recently used by Member of the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament André Bosman of the liberal democratic VVD party.
“However, whatever label is put on it, I agree with the Progress Committee that the third extension has to see concrete steps of improvement. The lack of (financial) means on his budget cited by the Justice Minister of St. Maarten is not an acceptable reason for the current state of both the prison and the Police Force,” stated Plasterk.
Plasterk emphasised that the St. Maarten Government had to stick to the agreements to strengthen the Justice sector and needed to set the necessary (financial) priorities to achieve this. He said this issue would be discussed in a next meeting with the St. Maarten Prime Minister.
“With the inception of the new Government, it has to become clear soon whether the improvement plans will be accepted on a political level and, if that is the case, whether the executing services will actually be enabled to see the necessary improvements through,” stated Plasterk.
The Progress Committee also urged the St. Maarten Government to take action. “Government has to take structural measures to execute the Plans of Approach,” it said. The Committee suggested reprioritising within the budget, alternative revenue sources through a Crime Fund and intensifying the “crime does not pay” (“pluk-ze”) approach.
“The Committee understands that the expansion of personnel and upgrading through education is a heavy burden on the St. Maarten budget. The Committee is also of the opinion that there is much to be gained through efficiency in the Justice apparatus. There are too many non-active persons in the organisation that heavily burden the personnel cost of the Justice budget,” it said.
It pointed out that at least 170 additional personnel were needed at the KPSM, while the prison would have even more difficult tasks aside from increasing the number of active personnel, as internal procedures have to be put into place to enable the functioning of the new organisation.
According to the Committee, the personnel situation at the penitentiary facility remains “unabatedly extremely worrisome, if not terrible.” “Important vacancies are not filled due to the lack of required funding. Important internal systems do not function properly and there is no prospect of improvement,” it said.
The Committee remarked that “essential safety procedures” do not function and there are “great concerns” about the prison’s management. “The Committee advises the Minister of Justice to intervene more than he has done so far, both in the management as well as in the supporting services at the Ministry,” it said.
The lack of properly-functioning internal systems and a management team that is only half-filled and shows little decisiveness is “very bad” for stability at the prison. “That is a risky situation for a penitentiary,” the Committee said.
It spoke of a “precarious personnel situation.” The prison’s formation plan mentioned 99.5 fulltime employees, while there are 107 persons stated on the payroll. Of this number, 50 persons work at the prison, but are not all employable. Nine employees work elsewhere, but have not been formally dismissed from the prison. Some employees are in the process of being suspended or dismissed, while others are absent for unknown reason or are on sick leave.
“With a payroll that is larger than the formation allows, it is evident that the personnel budget is largely exceeded, while overtime is being made at the prison to maintain the occupancy. Intervention is direly needed. The payroll has to be cleaned,” the Committee said.
Where it pertained to the Police Force, the Committee called it “outright sad” and “completely unacceptable” that the police were unable to use the Actpol information system because (financial) commitments had not been complied with.
“Such a vital system for police cannot be terminated. That is not only detrimental to the functioning of the police, but also to the law enforcement within the Kingdom. Termination is unacceptable,” stated the Committee, calling on the Governments of St. Maarten and the Netherlands to find a solution.
“The severe shortage of police personnel and the problems with the automated information system have as a consequence that there is barely any follow-up to vital reports, such as sexual offences and robberies. The insecurity on the island will only increase as a result.”
The Committee requested in August that Prime Minister William Marlin discuss the plans in the Council of Ministers as soon as possible and, if needed, start discussions with the Netherlands regarding their execution. In that same letter, the Committee urged the Prime Minister to nominate a St. Maarten member for the Committee, as this position was still vacant.
Although the Plans of Approach are initially a responsibility of the Justice Minister, there is also an important role for the entire St. Maarten Government. The problems at the Police Force and prison are of such an extent that they cannot be solved by St. Maarten alone. “A substantial contribution of the Netherlands in the form of financing and expertise is needed for several years,” the Committee said.