Law Enforcement Council still worried about prison

PHILIPSBURG–Recent deteriorating developments at the Pointe Blanche prison seem more worrisome than before, according to the Law Enforcement Council.

The Council will initiate the first of three inspections of the Pointe Blanche detention facility in October, all to be conducted through May 2017. The high council shared some of its concerns in a statement to the media on Tuesday.The escape of a prisoner in February and the most recent incident of August during which an inmate was murdered by a fellow inmate with a firearm are reasons for additional serious concerns.

Questions about the safety and security not only of the personnel and the prisoners, but society as well, have been raised publicly, notes the Council. In 2015, the consultative platform for the respective Ministers of Justice within the Dutch Kingdom (JVO) jointly requested that the Council monitor the follow-up of the recommendations made by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment CPT.

In the period between the inspections conducted in 2013 and 2014 and its preparations for the upcoming inspections, the Council had already noted several bottlenecks.

The Council inspected the safety within the prison facility in 2014. During that inspection it also investigated a violent incident during which a firearm was used but malfunctioned, followed by sharp objects being used to severely injure one of the inmates.

Immediately thereafter, the then-Minister of Justice requested that the Council include that incident in the 2014 inspection report on safety within the facility. Findings, conclusions and recommendations can be found in said report, as posted on the Law Enforcement Council’s website .

At the time, the Council had already expressed its concerns and pessimism regarding the precarious situation at the prison. Many findings in this study were consistent with what had been discovered previously and included in numerous reports dating as far back as 2005.

The Council noted that previous reports on findings and recommendations had often not led to an actual addressing of the shortcomings. In its own study, the Council reiterated its impression of the great dedication of those who keep the institution running, under very difficult circumstances.

The Council found that three main factors affect the security and safety within the prison: understaffing, and the quality and integrity of personnel. The Council concluded that there is a lack of attention for many serious challenges, notwithstanding that Government’s integral support and commitment is mandatory.

Some 15 recommendations to contribute to improvements were made. However, the Council emphasises that real effect will only be achieved when this multifaceted issue is approached integrally. The scope and dimension of the problem and the extent to which it has been consequently lagging behind in following up on findings and recommendations were (are) not a reason to be optimistic in any way. The Council referred to its doubts whether the situation could be substantially improved without assistance from the Kingdom partners.

An inspection report on the capacity of the facility was published in 2013, which indicated the shortcomings in that respect. The calculation made by the Council resulted in an indication that in St. Maarten (in 2013) there was a need for a minimum of 251 cell locations. Presently, the capacity reaches no more than 143 (43 per cent less than the minimum).

The Law Enforcement Council endorsed what other research had already confirmed on various occasions: creating of detention places is not the greatest problem, but the maintenance of a proper level of treatment is. This is so because not only do extra cells have to be provided, but well-trained personnel and adequate treatment of detainees are also required.

The Council concluded its report with four recommendations for improvement, including one to comply with (inter)national legal provisions and standards.

The Council encountered discussion on the same issues and problems on several occasions in April during the Justice conference on the Plans of Approach (dating back to 2010) for the Pointe Blanche detention facility. The conclusions of the conference were presented to Government at the time.

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