photo: Natasja Gibbs

PHILIPSBURG – It is not difficult to escape from or start a riot in Sint Maarten’s Pointe Blanche prison. Prison Director Edward Rohan feels compelled to share the risks his staff and him endure.

The fences around the prison are broken and a large part of the prison wall is missing. This wall was destroyed by Hurricane Gonzalo in 2014 and was never reconstructed due to lack of funds. Moreover the emergency generator, which is as old as the prison, regularly malfunctions, even during the frequent power outages on the island.

Prison Director Edward Rohan pointing out the missing fences and parts of the prison walls, which were damaged during a hurricane in 2014 – photo: Natasja Gibbs

There is only one route in and out of the prison grounds. In the event of an outbreak or a riot and this road is blocked, the prison staff is literally left with their backs against the broken wall.

Weapons in the walls
In the women’s courtyard Rohan points to protruding steel in the floor. “Look, that’s just a potential stabbing weapon.

Steel sticking out of the walls and floors (l) serve easily as a weapon (R) – Photo: Natasja Gibbs

Those pieces of steel they grind until they make a knife out of it. We have already found a lot and this happens throughout the whole prison.” The knives are literally falling out the crumbling wall.

Mobile phones and also firearms are found regularly in the prison. The director is convinced that a group of night guards are smuggling these prohibited items inside.

In the monitoring room one guard sits behind eight computer screens while his colleague carries out a surveillance of the visitors’ bags, because the baggage scanner has not been functioning for weeks – photo: Natasja Gibbs

Lack of surveillance
On various sections of the prison a lack of security presence is notable. “That is because of a shortage of personnel,” the director explains. “The women we only monitor regularly via a camera. Actually I should start the daily program with eighteen guards for 135 prisoners, but I should be happy if I have five or seven guards.”

No progress
The Dutch Progress Committee has in its reports over the years urged prison management to clean up the workforce: “There are more people on the payroll than in the workplace.”

According to the prison director this is not easy to attain: “Some personnel on the payroll I cannot position in the workplace, because they cannot work with detainees. I cannot even spend on other departments. I have to speak with Justice Minister Rafael Boasman on a solution. This is the fifth time I have to convince a new minister.”

According to the prison director walls and guard posts, are deteriorating as result of the salt breeze and are in need of renovation – photo: Natasja Gibbs