photo: Kim Hendriksen

PHILIPSBURG – Locked in a cell for twenty two hours a day, not having any activities planned. The prisoners at the Pointe Blanche prison are frustrated. And that is reflected in the high number of incidents involving violence.

“There is literally nothing to do here”, an incarcerated man says. “There are no activities, no educational programs. We can’t work out. Everything is broken. We do have a pool table but no balls. The only thing you can do all day is stare at a wall.”

Story continues after the video:

By Kim Hendriksen (in Dutch)

Attorney Sjamira Roseburg, who represents several inmates who are locked up in the prison, is worries about her clients’ mental and psychological states. “I have a client who has a lot of mental issues, that isn’t getting the treatments he’s supposed to get because Sint Maarten simply does not offer them.”

She has been battling the abhorrent living conditions within the prison for a long time. In 2020 she represented 37 inmates, all members of the Inmate Association, in a case demanding that the government improve the living conditions within the prison.

‘It’s a ticking time-bomb inside the prison’ – attorney Sjamira Roseburg

Roseburg: “You cannot sentence people to be imprisoned for a long period of time such as ten years or more, in a prison which does not have a structured activities program. Lately when I visit my clients a lot of them inform me that they can no longer handle the situation. My colleagues have also been picking up the same signals from their clients. It’s a ticking time-bomb in there. It’s only a matter of time before something happens”.

‘Prisoners who are serving long sentences need to be transferred to Bonaire or the Netherlands’

“The different countries within the Kingdom have to support each other. We should be making more use of each other’s facilities”, is the lawyer’s opinion. She would like to see her clients which have to sit out a long prison sentence or who need mental and/or psychological help be transferred to Bonaire or the Netherlands where they can get the help they are entitled to.

“The latest development is that slowly but surely several project are starting up again, like the project for young individuals who cannot read and write properly, they’ll be able to hone their skills during a special program. It’s also nice that the sewing work-room is up and running again. But this only has enough space for six detainees. They’re working on it, but not hard enough.”

Maximum capacity
The Netherlands has already been reprimanded by the European Court of Human Right due to the abhorrent conditions within the Pointe Blanche prison. However the prison is still in use till this day and almost eighty prisoners are detained there. This means that the prison is full.

“Because the prison is full, detainees are often held for too long in police station cells. But police station cells are not built to hold people for a longer period of time. Technically you can only hold someone in a police station cell for ten days, but this is commonly exceeded, that should not be allowed”, says Roseburg.

Last year the Netherlands made thirty million euros available for the construction of a new prison. But it remains unclear what the current stage of construction of the new prison is. At the time of publication the prison management and the Ministry of Justice had not reacted to our request for comment.

Prison and justice system under fire

The abhorrent state of the Pointe Blanche prison, the continuing cell shortage and the lack of tbs possibilities have been points of concern for years. Caribbean Network has reported on the prison several times during the past years:

    • * The Kingdom came under the supervision of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, because the conditions under which individuals are detained in police station cells on Sint Maarten do not meet the standards set out by the European Court of Human Rights:

Prison system on Sint Maarten: ‘human rights are violated on a daily basis’

Walls and watchtowers which need renovating. – Archival picture: Natasja Gibbs

* The Pointe Blanche prison has been condemned for years, Caribbean Network visited the prison at the start of 2017, shortly after that prison director had to clean house:
VVD and SP says St. Maarten must promptly tackle prison setbacks

* In the Caribbean part of the Kingdom, there is no possibility for a (full) tbs treatment plan. This is also a violation of human rights:

Detention under hospital orders (tbs) treatments also not possible on Bonaire, Statia, and Saba