photo: Tim van Dijk

Philipsburg – The court on Sint Maarten will announce the verdict on June 19 of an injunction filed by 37 inmates of the Pointe Blanche prison demanding their transfer to a prison in Bonaire or the Netherlands. This transfer is to be done within a week in case of an affirming verdict.

The case was held on June 5 where attorneys Sjamira Roseburg, Shaira Bommel and Geert Hatzmann presented the alarming conditions of the detention facility. The lawyers also requested penalties of up to 10 million dollars if the government fails to abide by the verdict.

A pivotal trial
The plea of the inmates is about the life-threatening dangers and grave living conditions in Pointe Blanche prison that they see as unfit and inhumane. Roseburg states she’s “relieved” that the case is heard despite the delays due to Covid-19. She laments the lockdown that the prisoners had to face during their prison strike for better conditions, leaving them without mandated recreational time. The inmates saw it as a failure to engage with them meaningfully.

A report by Ralph Cantave & Tim van Dijk

Aernout Kraaijeveld, the attorney representing the government of St. Maarten countered the claims of the inmates stating that there are other prisons that are worse in comparison and efforts have been made to improve the prison since hurricane Irma. Kraaijeveld tried to explain that the risks in the prison are created by the prisoners themselves.

At one point, Hatzmann mentioned that after the verdict in the Francesco Corallo and Theo Heyliger’s cases, they were transported to another facility in the Kingdom. Corallo and Heyliger were ‘high profile’ cases and the 37 plaintiffs that went to court are not. Kraaijeveld’s response was these transfers had been for their safety and because renovations are ongoing.

“Everything is a difference”
Edsel Romney, a former convict, sat in the courthouse and observed the proceedings. He is one of several prisoners who were transferred to the Netherlands two months after Hurricane Irma. “Everything is a difference” he said regarding his detention in the Netherlands. He compared it to being locked up in a cruise ship where you go to work, school and contribute to a safe cruising.

Romney was able to obtain four diplomas and fell in love with fitness. He said prisoners in Holland are allowed to have pets, go shopping and are provided with adequate healthcare. There are “no bars or cages, there are cells with doors” he exclaimed while comparing the conditions between the Netherlands and St. Maarten. Romney also recounted the horror of enduring Irma while in Pointe Blanche, “Imagine yourself in a dog cage trying to protect yourself with a garbage bag.”

Work to do
In the three years since Hurricane Irma, the government of St. Maarten has had a change of Justice ministers three times. After ongoing inconsistency, current minister Anna Richardson will have to address serious backlog. According to Kraaijeveld, the justice ministry has earmarked funds for the improvement of the prison. Roseburg stated that the Netherlands are willing to help house prisoners as they did before.

Until then inmates must endure their present environment as they anxiously await the verdict.