photo: Tim van Dijk

PHILIPSBURG – Two juvenile delinquents are the new ‘tenants’ at the re-opened Miss Lalie Center. The youth detention center got damaged during the hurricane of 2017 and had to close its doors. During the interim there was no possibility to lock up juvenile delinquents on Sint Maarten.

“They were being monitored using alternative methods”, says minister of Justice Cornelius De Weever during a visit to the building. “All of the young individuals who were detained in the building before the hurricane got transferred to families. One of them even got adopted during the time that has elapsed.”

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By Tim van Dijk

After two years, the building is habitable once more. “We were short on funds after the hurricane and had a lot of different priorities, such as the prison”, says De Weever. The center is meant for boys between the ages of 12 and 18 who have been convicted by a judge. If they become 18 during their sentence, they will be transferred to the Pointe Blanche prison.

The Pointe Blanche prison is not suited for juvenile delinquents Picture: Tim van Dijk

In April of this year, news came out that due to the lack of a youth detention center, juvenile delinquents were being sent home, mostly without electronic monitoring. Read more here: Juvenile delinquents reign supreme on Sint Maarten due to lack of jail cells

“Eventually we would like to open a center for girls next to this one”, says De Weever. In the mean time we have the possibility to monitor them remotely. “But at this point we don’t have a case.”

During the day three staff members work at the Miss Lalie Center: two pedagogical members and a chef. At night there are security guards. The selection procedure for additional staff is still ongoing.

The building has two wings with a capacity for 20 juvenile delinquents. “We assess per case whether or not to place an individual in a private or a shared room”, according to De Weever.

Special plumbing from the Netherlands
The second wing isn’t completed yet. There’s still a plastic film on some of the doors and the stainless steel toilets and sinks are still in boxes in a few of the rooms. De Weever: “The building was constructed as a residential building, so some of the toilets and sinks needed to be replaced by special plumbing from the Netherlands. This is happening one room at a time in the last wing.”

There’s a rec-room, kitchen, and teaching facilities downstairs. “A teacher stops by for lessons. Eventually we want the young individuals to follow classes remotely on a laptop”, says De Weever.

Young individuals have to follow a program
Outside there’s a sports field, a foosball table, a vegetable garden, and a workshop where the boys can work on an engine block. “The young individuals all have to follow a program. Their progress will be tracked on a board in the rec-room. The longest a person stayed here before the hurricane was 3.5 years”, says Renford Bell. Bell used to already work at the Miss Lalie Center and was a mentor, security guard, and handyman all wrapped into one neat package.

The building was originally meant to be a foster home, but because there was a bigger need for a youth detention center, De Weever – at the time minister of Public Health, Social Development and Health – bequeathed the building to the Ministry of Justice.