Despite agreements between the Netherlands and Sint Maarten, the detention conditions on the island are still seriously below par. Prisoners in Point Blanche prison on Sint Maarten are faced with violence and serious aggression. The prison management recognizes the abuses.
Weapons have been found several times in prison, including a gun. A letter from the detainees to the prison management, which De Volkskrant was told, reveals, in addition to major security concerns, a lack of staff and a large number of detainees in jail. Those who have no money cannot go to the dentist, doctor or mental health care. There are no facilities for warming up a meal or for recreation. As a result, the mutual tensions increase.
In a four-page letter, the chairman of the prisoners’ association describes that nothing is improving about the continuing unsafe situation. In a written response, the director acknowledges that “there are matters that need to be worked on”, such as (in) safety, exceeding the number of detainees per cell and nuisance from pigeons and cockroaches.
The complaints of the prisoners.
Due to the unsafe situation, the workforce suffers from long-term absenteeism. Some staff members do not show up without reason. There is hardly any question of re-socialization. Hurricane Irma caused major damage in August 2017, making a large part of the cells unusable. As a result, prisoners are sometimes placed in a cell with too large a number, and suspects who would have to await their trial in prison are sometimes sent home. Good supervision of the dismissed suspects is missing.
The reaction of the prison management.
The Law Enforcement Council concluded in its report last October that Pointe Blanche “is completely unsuitable in terms of both human detention and workplace.” Remco Stomp, chairman of the Bar Association of Sint Maarten, also states that there is an “unacceptable” situation.
In protest against the circumstances, the detainees have been refusing since 23 October to collect their waste and to clean their cells, so that the staff now have to do this themselves and the situation due to nuisance caused by odors and odors is exacerbated.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has previously ruled that the situation in Point Blanche prison is “inhumane and unacceptable”, and the Council of Europe has determined that the Netherlands should make efforts to improve the circumstances. But the Netherlands places the responsibility with the island itself.
The Ministry of Justice on Sint Maarten is working on a recovery plan for the prison. Additional guards are being trained, among other things. They have to do an internship, but can only do that on the island in the prison where they later work.
Due to the hurricane damage last September, containers from Bonaire were sent to prison for extra detention capacity. The problem with this, however, is that they were not tested for hurricane resistance, so that they could not be put into use. The Netherlands promised a total of sixteen container cells, but this also did not solve the capacity problem in prison.
Since the hurricane damage, the Netherlands has hosted 31 detainees from Sint Maarten. The costs of this care – 120,000 euros per month – are for the account of Sint Maarten. Prisoners who were brought to Curaçao after the hurricane, Curaçao took care of it itself.
Eight of the prisoners detained in the Netherlands have since been returned. Return of the others has been suspended because, according to Minister Dekker of Legal Protection, Point Blanche “does not function properly”. He calls the progress of improvement measures “insufficient”.
According to Dekker, however, that improvement is “a country affair” and Sint Maarten, as an independent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands itself, is responsible for the abuses in Pointe Blanche. The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights believes that the Netherlands is jointly responsible.