photo: Pointe Blanche prison/Tim van Dijk

PHILIPSBURG – Container cells from Bonaire should’ve been the solution to the alarming cell shortage on Sint Maarten. But three months after the container cells arrived, they’re still not in use. Minister Raymond Knops (Kingdom Relations) says that ‘progress is taking (too) long’. He informed Parliament of this in a letter.

The lack of cells leads to an overfull prison. The situation has gotten so bad that the inmates went on strike and Sint Maarten had to request military help. The Kingdom is also under the supervision of the Council of Europe because amongst other things, detainees are held for too long in police station cells.

The supervision would be evaluated in the fall but this has been postponed till next year, Knops writes. “The prison system on Sint Maarten remains an area of concern”, according to the minister.

The prisoners in the Pointe Blanche prison went on strike from October through the start of December due to the conditions in the prison. They stopped working in the prison and refused to return to their cells. The prisoners have a list with twenty demands. The interim minister of Justice, Egbert Dora, agreed to most of the terms but the cell shortage still hasn’t been resolved.

The list included items like a functioning washing machine, pest control, a microwave, and access to dentists and doctors. According to lawyer Sjamira Roseburg, who represents the inmates, the prisoners received a few deadlines on paper. But no deadline can be given for solving the cell shortages.

Electronic monitoring
In his letter to the inmates, minister Doran does not mention when the container cells will be in use. He says that ‘when the electronic monitoring system is up and running, the load will be lightened on the overfull cells.’ He doesn’t give a hard date for when this will happen.

Vernon Illidge, spokesperson for the ministry of Justice, says that he unable to give an answer as to when the container cells and the electronic monitoring program will be taken into use. “We are still working on the estimate. There’s no new information available.”

A follow up with the Office of the Public Prosecutor for Sint Maarten shows that the situation is just as pressing for them. “The pressure on the holding capacity is growing and there are no cells or electronic monitoring”, confirms chief prosecutor Mirjam Mol.

One of the reasons for the slow progress is the changing of guards within the government. The government of Sint Maarten fell in September and an interim government took its seat in November. Elections will be held on January 9th. Knops mentions in his letter that they’re in contact with Sint Maarten every two weeks to see if there is any progress. “It’s important that Sint Maarten keeps on working towards the rapid implementation of the agreed upon improvement points”, according to Knops.

Minister Sander Dekker and Knops visited the prison in April. Picture: Tim van Dijk

Public Prosecutor sounds the alarm

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