PHILIPSBURG – “We are very worried, we need more cell capacity quickly. The change of government causes a delay. The prison is overflowing.
Last month a temporary solution seemed to be close by: eleven container cells from Bonaire were then transferred to Sint-Maarten by defense . Tjandra van Lake of the Ministry of Justice confirms that the preparation of the container cells has stopped due to the departure of the minister. “We don’t know when this will resume.”
Because there is too little cell capacity, it is possible that suspects stay in a police cell for longer than the permitted ten days . There have also been 23 detainees since Hurricane Irma in 2017, who had considerably damaged the Pointe Blanche prison at the time, in the Netherlands. Sint Maarten pays 120,000 euros per month to the Netherlands for the reception of these prisoners.
Nico Schoof, chairman of the Sint-Maarten Progress Committee, will be on the island in two weeks. In the last report two months ago, the committee was cautiously positive for the first time in years. The committee was delighted by the now resigned minister Cornelius de Weever and noted progress. “Everything will be delayed due to the change of government. In the Netherlands a lot can go through in such a case due to extensive official services that have a mandate. On Sint Maarten, all projects need personal attention from the minister, “says Schoof.
The director of the Pointe Blanche prison expects to have more than 80 percent long-term sentences within a year, including those who are still in the Netherlands and Curaçao. Meanwhile, crime is rising. In the first half of this year, 24 crimes involving firearms were already registered. This is an increase of 50 percent compared to 2018, according to figures from the Public Prosecution Service on St Maarten. According to the OM, more serious violent crimes are being solved and long-term prison sentences are being imposed. As a result, the pressure on detention capacity increases even more.
The Kingdom has been under the supervision of the European Council since 2017 because suspects were locked up in police cells for months under miserable circumstances. The cells have since been refurbished but the detention capacity remains a major problem . The Public Prosecution Service must shift daily and look for solutions to house suspects. In the autumn, the council will decide whether the supervision will be continued or not.
‘The Netherlands must offer help’
The reports of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) of the Council of Europe and the St Maarten Progress Committee have been negative for years. The role of the Netherlands is invariably mentioned in this. “Prison system is primarily the responsibility of the government of St Maarten. But we have been calling on the Netherlands for years to offer more help. Sint Maarten cannot do it alone. There is only one country in the Kingdom with sufficient expertise and resources: the Netherlands. “