Published On: Thu, Jul 12th, 2018

Dutch assistance needed for St. Maarten detention system

Point-Blanche-SXMTHE HAGUE - The St. Maarten Progress Committee remains extremely concerned about the Pointe Blanche prison. The committee deems the situation “hopeless” and is pressing for a mutual arrangement with the Netherlands to structurally assist in carrying out the detention function in St. Maarten. “Applying bandages doesn’t help anymore,” the committee said.

The committee noted in its 29th report regarding the execution of the plans of approach for the St. Maarten Police Force KPSM and the Pointe Blanche prison that “massive support from the Netherlands is necessary to safeguard the locking up of detainees in a humane manner.” Agreements between St. Maarten and the Netherlands are needed in this regard, it was stated in the progress report that covered the last months of 2017 and the first quarter of 2018.

The prison suffered extensive damage during Hurricane Irma in September last year. Since that time, the facility has been guarded by personnel of the Netherlands Judicial Institutions Service DJI and the National Special Assistance Unit LBB of the Netherlands, a sort of mobile unit for the penitentiary system.

However, this assistance from the Netherlands is slated to end per August 1, which is in a little over two weeks. This means that St. Maarten Minister of Justice Cornelius de Weever has to take urgent measures to have guards ready by that time to take over the security at the prison, the committee concluded. Recruiting prison personnel from the Netherlands and elsewhere is recommended. The committee remarked that this concept was already successfully applied for the KPSM in the past.

The committee was alarmed about the fact that during its visit late April, barely any improvements had been made where it concerned the state of the prison or the operation procedures. “Hope for improvement only exists in theory, which has the character of an illusion: there is an image, but it has no content.”

The committee spoke of a crisis situation that St. Maarten so far has been unable to handle on its own, mainly due to the lack of capacity and funds. “The safety situation in the prison remains no better than very dangerous and detainees only remain inside by the grace of the impressive exterior security of the people of DJI and LBB, and their term ends shortly,” the committee stated. Currently some 62 persons are detained at the prison.

Also, no further agreements have been made about the prolonging of the stay of St. Maarten prisoners at penitentiary facilities in Curaçao and the Netherlands. “The terms of external assistance terminate shortly and soon the transferred prisoners will return while there is no space for them.”

There is a great risk that the Courts or the Prosecutor’s Office will stop referring convicted persons to the prison due to the problematic detention circumstances. This has already occurred with a number of convicted youth criminals: some suspects of a serious offence were let go. “Time is passing by and the problems are only becoming more urgent.”

The St. Maarten Council of Ministers has approved a decision to construct a new prison. However, the government has insufficient funds to finance this on its own. Full financing cannot take place from the Recovery Trust Fund. Possibly a part can be funded through the first tranche of the Trust Fund managed by the World Bank.

Constructing a new prison together with French St. Martin is a possibility as well as cooperation with DJI in relation to St. Eustatius and Saba. Repairs to the existing prison are being considered to cover the period until the new prison is constructed.

The Progress Committee advised to temporarily restore the existing detention facilities in Pointe Blanche and the Simpson Bay police station, in combination with drafting an overall action plan to implement a detention system focused on the structural reduction of repeat offences, while working on the construction of a new prison. Possible forms of cooperation with the French side should be explored.
The St. Maarten Ministry of Justice has no capacity to carry the responsibility of the reconstruction and the implementation of a new detention system. “The organisation is totally unequipped to adequately provide the services that resort under the ministry and to carry out its tasks.”

The committee, which cited the lack of (sufficiently) qualified personnel, a consistent administrative organisation and established work processes, has advised the minister of justice to reorganise the ministry, clean up the personnel formation and professionalise the organisation. “This a pre-condition for the successful execution of the prison and police plans.” The committee advised hiring external assistance for this “difficult trajectory.”

The committee was less critical of the KPSM where some progress has been made to improve the organisation. The committee noted that the police management has been doing its utmost to carry out the plan of approach.

The committee urged the St. Maarten government to handle the so-called “function books” at the KPSM at once, but also at the National Detectives and the prison. Without the formalising of these function books, there is little prospect of building solid organisations where the formal positions of personnel have not been secured after all these years, the committee stated.

The good news at the KPSM was that the multi-disciplinary Alpha Team at the airport was once more completely operational and successful. The current priorities for the police management are re-housing the emergency radio room, continuing to support the National Police from the Netherlands, and purchasing a standard uniform and police pickup trucks.

The committee reported that Chief of Police Carl John was less content about the delay in repairing the Philipsburg police station and the district offices. The financing of this reconstruction is part of the first tranche of the Trust Fund. Talks are ongoing in an effort to speed up this process.

The KPSM is in great need of a training area for its personnel. The building in Cole Bay where these facilities as well as the central emergency radio room and the firing range would be housed was badly damaged by the hurricane and will have to be torn down. The emergency radio room is housed in the mobile command unit in front of the police station. The Justice Academy has lost its building and is now making use of the facilities of University of St. Martin.

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