photo: Tim van Dijk

PHILIPSBURG – Following a week of protests by various labor unions and civil servants on St. Maarten, the correctional officers of the Pointe Blanche prison held a protest against the working conditions they endured over recent years.

The strike of the prison guards on Friday June 28, resulted in quite an unrest among inmates who were frustrated and upset because they were not fed until around 3 p.m.. Prior to the arrival of the police inmates managed to break out their cells.

Several police vehicles were seen heading to the prison and members of The St. Maarten Police Force assisted the few guards in feeding the detainees and restoring control of the prison. The uproar of the inmates also quelled when help arrived.

Attorney, Sjamira Roseburg, contacted the inmate association which she represents and they confirmed that distribution of meals started at 2 p.m. The officers also let them out of their cells. “This brings a lot of difficulties for the prisoners” she stated in regards to the lockdown they faced on Tuesday and Wednesday. “Their rights are being violated,” Roseburg concluded.

The prison needs a total upgrade
One guard, whose identity will remain anonymous, spoke about the frustration of the staff. The conditions not only affect the prisoners but also the guards.  “We had enough, the prison needs a total upgrade and we have been asking for years.”

The guard said its unfair that they have to face a cut in their vacation pay and the risk involved is high. Based on the report, there are five officers in the entire building and often there are just three officers during the night shift.

The two shifts are responsible for 70 men and seven women currently housed in Pointe Blanche. The guard said that the general infrastructure, hygiene and safety are overlooked and the main changes in the prison are changes in management.

The guard hopes to see a new prison be built with new working schedule and management. At present the inmates are kept imprisoned with locks and/or keys with some of the keys not functioning properly. “

They are either sticking in the locks or they just don’t open the lock. We are overwhelmed with an abundance of keys and insubstantial padlocks and chains.”  Despite those challenges, the guard said the work can be done efficiently.

MPs discuss Van Dam’s motion
In a meeting with Chris van Dam (CDA) and other St. Maarten Members of Parliament, Melissa Gumbs, suggested that the Netherlands as the donor country, take out a portion from the trust fund and earmark it for rebuilding the prison.

The MPs acknowledged that St. Maarten has not been able to manage its prison. Gumbs believes that the Netherlands partnering with the Netherlands to train and manage the prion would be in St. Maarten’s benefit.

This was in response to Knops motion in the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament to have the Kingdom Council of Ministers take control of the prison.