The Hague – The CDA says it is considering an intervention, if the new government on Sint Maarten is not willing to deal with the issues which has been plaguing the prison on the island for years.
During the Interparliamentair Koninkrijksoverleg (Ipko) in January it was decided that a taskforce should be set up to deal with the detention issues the islands have been facing. The CDA believes that a Sint Maarten ‘shouldn’t even get a task force’. Ï think that everyone understands what needs to happen.”
There has been a shortage of cells in the prison for years. This is the reason why some suspects are detained for longer than 10 days in police station cells, which is not allowed. The Netherlands received another reprimand for this in December from the European Court of Human Rights.
According to the Office for the Public Prosecutor for Sint Maarten this hasn’t happened since. “But if we are talking about a felony and there is no room in the Pointe Blanche prison, the head prosecutor will have to decide on whether or not to prolong their detention.”
Public Prosecutor Sint-Maarten had already sounded the alarm
“Regrettably there were cases in the past where the Public Prosecutor would’ve liked to ask for detention under hospital order (tbs), if that were legally possible. In those cases the suspects mostly received long prison sentences”, the head prosecutor told Caribbean Network in 2019.
CDA-MP Chris van Dam is concerned that the convicts are released before they served their time due to the lack of cells. “To make room for example for new detainees. And that is extremely unfair towards the victims.”
The CDA is also concerned about the possibility that suspects will be released earlier while awaiting trial. “”Suspects who have committed felonies are released back into society. What could happen is that citizens will take matters into their own hands. I am truly worried about that”, says Van Dam.
Crime and fear on the rise
The persistent lack of capacity in the prison on Sint Maarten is detrimental for the feeling of safety on the streets, according to Nico Schoof. He was the mayor of Alphen aan den Rijn from 1997 to 2008. Since Sint Maarten became an independent country within the Kingdom in 2010, Schoof has been a member of the Voortgangscommissie Sint Maarten. Read our interview with Schoof here: “crime and fear are on the rise.”
Parliamentary questions asked
The CDA has asked parliamentary questions regarding the detention facilities on Sint Maarten once more. That has happened several times during the past years. That has not solved any of the cell capacity issues on Sint Maarten. “I understand that we can’t continue doing this.”
“The new government has to recognize the issues and has to ask the Netherlands for help”, according to CDA-MP Van Dam. “If it has not been taken care of, I should be able to say as an MP: you have to intervene or you have to take it over.”
Help from the Hague
Currently the Netherlands is helping to expand the capacity of the Pointe Blanche prison with container cells. They were transported from Bonaire to Sint Maarten. “But a lot more is needed to solve the problems”, says Van Dam.
The CDA wants the Dutch government to help Sint Maarten with financial support or expertise to get the detention facilities up to par.
“But it is the responsibility of the government of Sint Maarten to ask for help”, emphasizes Van Dam. “And I’ll make sure that where possible, the Hague gives an appropriate response.”
Sint Maarten’s reaction
Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs has not yet requested help, but hopes for support. “Without proper liquidity we cannot make improvements or hire people to implement those improvements”, says Jacobs. “If I’m being honest, our hands are tied. But we still have to justify why the improvements have not been made. `It’s a bit of a vicious circle.”
Criticism from Sint Maarten
The CDA believes that the island is too small to manage major judicial tasks. “Just like every municipality in the Netherlands is too small to manage a prison, police force, or courthouse on their own.”
Sint Maarten should, as an experiment, have its judicial system managed by the Dutch minister for Justice. This wish from the CDA has led to criticism from local politicians on Sint Maarten.
“I could care less whether or not they like what I’m saying”, says Van Dam. “But I would say to that: manage it properly and make sure it gets done.”
“I’ve noticed a certain level of pride and independence in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom. That’s great for the nations”, says Van Dam. “But if that means that you’re stuck in a situation for years, you have to be able to accept help.”
Curaçao also under supervision
MP’s visited the prison on Curaçao in January to inspect the detention facilities where Venezuelan immigrants are detained. “We agreed that if someone were to spend a longer period of time there, it would be degrading”, says Chris van Dam (CDA). If the situation is not resolved quickly, the Hague should consider an intervention Van Dam believes. “We don’t use that term lightly. For me it truly has a certain meaning in regards to Article 43 of the Constitution of the Kingdom.”