PHILIPSBURG – The ongoing lack of detention capacity on Sint Maarten negatively affects the safety on the streets of the island. So says Nico Schoof of the Voortgangscommissie Sint Maarten. “Criminals realize that they won’t spend a lot of time in prison. Crime and fear are on the rise.”
The chronic lack of detention capacity and the deplorable state of the prison means that suspects are released early. “This particular concern is shared by everyone in the justice system”, says Schoof, who was on the island last week with the rest of the commission. “Yet no one has stepped up and said. I’m going to take care of it. Political responsibility has to be taken on both sides of the Atlantic.”
Major concerns about acute cell shortage
According to the director of the prison, Alwin Keli, 43 cells with 86 beds are available at the Pointe Blanche prison. This is not enough, according to the chief prosecutor Mirjam Mol and criminal attorneys Sjamira Roseburg and Shaira Bommel. They’re sounding the alarm: read more about it here
During the first half of 2019, at least 24 crimes where a firearm was used have been registered. This is an increase of 50 percent compared to 2018, according to the numbers of the Office of the Public Prosecutor for Sint Maarten.
To relieve some of the capacity issues, eleven container cells were brought over from Bonaire. Due to the recent crisis in government, the projects surrounding the installation of the container cells have been delayed.
Since the fall of the government of Sint Maarten, the minister of Finance, Perry Geerlings, has been de acting minister of Justice. According to Geerlings, the projects surrounding the installation of the container cells, such as the sewage system, plumbing, and the electrical work can continue. But on the question of when the container cells will be ready for use, there’s no answer.
‘It’s not just about a lack of cells’
Schoof confirms that ‘technically there are improvements’. “Technically some improvements have been made to the prison during the last months. They’re just not enough to guarantee safety within Sint Maarten’s society. The prison is still a headache. But it’s not just the lack of cells at the prison”, says Schoof. “It influences the entire justice system. Think about prevention, making sure that people don’t end up in prison or re-integrating ex-cons into society. There’s no possibility for that now.”
The commission believes that it’s time that Sint Maarten and the Netherlands work together. “The commission calls upon all the politically responsible individuals to seize this moment and solve this dire situation so as to improve the safety on Sint Maarten.”
The Voortgangscommissie Sint Maarten has been supervising the prison system on Sint Maarten since the country became an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands on October 10th, 2010. Their 35th report will be published next month.
‘Give Dutch minister of Justice more privileges on the islands’
In a motion, Dutch MP Chris van Dam (CDA) states that Sint Maarten is too small to take care of its own law enforcement and as such the Netherlands should receive more privileges to intervene in that area.