Monday’s news of efforts to reach initial agreement with the Netherlands on the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) proposal for a new prison was met with some scepticism. After all, many plans regarding the penitentiary at Pointe Blanche have been announced over the years, but few of them fully realised.
There are also those who argue that St. Maarten should be constructing classrooms or social housing rather than cells to lock up people. A similar sentiment was reflected in the answer by Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs Raymond Knops when asked after the devastating passage of Hurricane Irma in September 2017 whether means from the related Recovery Trust Fund could be used to tackle this issue; namely, that he did not think the Netherlands should be building prisons in the Dutch Caribbean country.
However, due to the persistent nature of the lack of up-to-standard detention facilities problem that has kingdom-wide implications based on international treaties, the government in The Hague changed its position and agreed to provide financing. This will be done through the Caribbean Body for Reform and Development COHO that is to guide restructuring measures as condition for continued coronavirus-related liquidity support.
Fact is also that pre-trial detentions or even minor sentences are occasionally not carried out expediently, if at all, simply because there is no adequate space to put those involved. No matter how you look at it, this is a risk to the proper functioning of law enforcement.
No details such as envisaged location, capacity, etc. have yet been confirmed, but it does appear a new correctional institution could become reality in the foreseeable future, with the first phase of construction to take 13 months and the entire project four years. It is important that this becomes not just a holding facility to serve time, but a place of meaningful resocialisation.
Rehabilitating especially young first-offenders is key to lowering the number of revolving-door criminals and getting a better grip on delinquency in society.