photo: Pointe Blanche Prison

PHILIPSBURG – An overflowing prison that’s crawling with roaches, almost no recreational facilities, and begging for medical assistance. The prisoners being held at the Pointe Blanche prison are tired of the situation. The prisoners who help in the kitchen, janitorial services, and repair shop are no longer going to ‘work’.

“Within the Kingdom, in 2019, this cannot be happening. Everyone is pointing fingers at each other while the situation just keeps getting worse. The prisoners are the only ones who have to endure a violation of their human rights on a daily basis”, says attorney Sjamira Roseburg, who represents nearly twenty prisoners. “No one is doing anything about the de-humanizing situation, so the prisoners have to take matters into their own hands.”

The prisoners wish to speak with the director of the prison and with the minister, to come to an agreement about which improvements will be carried out in the near future. The prison is fuller than allowed: the maximum capacity is 70 prisoners. Currently there are ten more prisoners than allowed and sometimes three prisoners have to share a cell. Medical complaints are not taken care of properly according to Roseburg: “I have a client who has been urinating blood for months and hasn’t been brought to the hospital.”

Fallen government: projects at a standstill
Whether the prisoners will get to speak to a minister is the main question. The former minister of Justice, Cornelius de Weever, had to step down. His tasks have temporarily been transferred to the ministry of Finance. An enquiry made to Tjandra Lake, an employee at the ministry of Justice, revealed that the ministry is also in the dark as to when the prison projects will be resumed.

Story continues after the video:

Roaches in the prison on Sint Maarten

The lack of cells has been an issue for a while now. The Kingdom is even under the supervision of the EU because suspects were being detained for too long in police station cells. Even though the Kingdom received a slap on the wrists from the European Court of Human Rights, some suspects are still being held in police station cells for too long, says attorney Sharia Bommel. “At this point there are four detainees that are being held for longer than the allowed ten days in police station cells. One of my clients has been in there for 26 days. Everyone knows about it but keeps their mouth shut.”

It’s not clear when and if the EU will lift the supervision. Giuseppe Zaffuto, spokesperson for the Council of Europe, says that the case regarding the police station cells on Sint Maarten still has to go before the Committee of Ministers. When this will happen, is still unclear.

Minister Dekker and Knops visited the police cells in April.

Public Prosecutor sounds the alarm

The Office of the Public Prosecutor of Sint Maarten is out of options. More and more felony cases are being solved and long prison sentences are being handed down but there’s barely any room to lock up suspects. Read more about it here: Major concerns about acute cell shortage: fall of Sint Maarten’s government delays progress

“Who will monitor the situation surrounding the police station cells and the prison now that the government has fallen?” Roseburg asks. “Do prisoners not have any rights within the Kingdom?” The attorney hopes that Sint Maarten and the Netherlands can work together to find a solution quickly.

‘Intervention by the Netherlands not the solution’
But she doesn’t see the plan of member of Parliament Chris van Dam (CDA), for the Netherlands to intervene and take over control of the legal system in Sint Maarten for a period of five years, as the solution.

“Why is it the responsibility of either Sint Maarten or the Netherlands? Justice is firstly a country issue, as long as Sint Maarten can handle it properly. That is currently the case. Human Rights are a Kingdom issue. Neither Sint Maarten nor the Netherlands got a slap on the wrists from the EU, but the Kingdom did. The countries should work together, like they should in a properly operating Kingdom as equal partners”, according to Roseburg.

Photo by Tim van Dijk

The lack of cells and rehabilitation facilities has been the talk of the town on Sint Maarten for a long time now. Read more about it here:

Prison system on Sint Maarten: ‘human rights are violated on a daily basis’