PHILIPSBURG – Despite the fact that the Kingdom is under the supervision of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe due to the poor state of police station cells on Sint Maarten, detainees are still being held for longer than the allowed ten days. Chief Prosecutor Mirjam Mol confirms this.
The reason for this is the lack of cells in the prison, says Mol. “It’s the exception rather than the rule. At this point in time no one is being detained for longer than ten days, last month this happened on five occasions.”
Not enough detention capacity
Mol says that they always try to avoid this. The Pointe Blanche prison can hold a maximum of 70 inmates. “We experience a lot of felonies here on Sint Maarten and that requires serious sentences. That’s why it’s important that we have enough capacity to detain criminals. Unfortunately that’s not the reality we live in at the moment.”
Minister Stef Blok of Foreign Affairs says that he expects the supervision to be lifted in the fall. The police station cells have been renovated using funds from the World Bank, with better lighting and more privacy according to the government of Sint Maarten.
Parliamentarian Chris van Dam (CDA) is questioning whether the steps taken by minister Stef Blok to improve the prison system on Sint Maarten are enough. In response to the Caribbean Network article on the prison system on Sint Maarten, Van Dam has sent Parliamentary questions to minister Blok, state secretary Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations), and minister Sander Dekker (Legal Protection). Van Dam wants to know if Knops and Blok, collectively with the government of Sint Maarten have defined the minimum requirements for the detention facilities.
Criminal law attorney Shiara Bommel, who works on Sint Maarten, has to regularly visit clients in the police station cells. “It’s dark, it stinks, and one time there was still blood on the floor of the cell where my client was being held. The situation has gotten worst in my opinion.”
Mol says that the police station cells have been renovated but that they’re only suitable for a short period of detention. After ten days the suspect has to go to the prison because they have a right to fresh air and recreation facilities.
Due to the lack of detention facilities on the island, (juvenile) suspects are regularly sent home. Parliamentarian Van Dam would like to know what the effects of this are on the legal system in Sint Maarten.
Minimal psychiatric help
The only prison on the island is a dilapidated and condemned building, there are few rehabilitation opportunities, and there is minimal psychiatric help available. Caribbean Network broke the news in July that the only institution able to offer psychiatric help, the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), would be without psychiatrists starting in August.
The two psychiatrists from India had to leave because starting in August only BIG-registered psychiatrists are allowed to practice on the island. “At the moment we’re working with a pool of stand-by psychiatrists from amongst other places Curaçao”, says Eileen Healy from MHF. “We have to get a work permit for the psychiatrists, even when they’re standing-in for two weeks. That’s why we can’t provide reliable and constant psychiatric care at the moment. We hope to have new psychiatrist working for us in December. When there aren’t any psychiatrist on the island, the only option is contacting psychiatrist in Curaçao by phone.”