Justice Minister Anna Richardson has appointed a new management for the Pointe Blanche prison (see related story). St. Maarten’s correction facility has been the subject of much criticism and concern for several years already, but especially since it was damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017.
The three-person team includes two members with long careers and established credentials in the local prison system and one professional in the areas of financing, economy, and human resources. That the latter is a former minister should not be an issue and – although not required – the fact that it regards a woman brings some welcome gender balance to the top of the penitentiary, fitting with the times. It would actually be good if other ex-ministers could somehow put their practical experience gained in public office to good use on behalf of the community.
Besides, having someone on board with more general skills to provide a “fresh look” at policies and operations cannot hurt. To some extent, houses of detention too must function as cost-effective and result-driven enterprises adhering to basic business principles, working within a budget, etc.
This change provides a perfect opportunity for those who have been so vocal about the prison, including the Dutch First and Second Chambers of Parliament, Law Enforcement Council, Progress Committee for the Plans of Approach, European Court of Human Rights and St. Maarten Bar Association to help make a new start together with the incoming team who, according to the minister, are aware of the “daunting challenges” they face.
Money has already been budgeted to build a new prison, while one management member has trained guards and will be assisting staff in completing certifications as well as providing refresher courses. After all, adequate manpower is an important ingredient and the lack of such was one of the consistent problems plaguing Pointe Blanche in the past decade.
The Second Chamber in The Hague even passed a motion for the Netherlands to take over responsibility for the detention system but still at the island’s expense. Thankfully, State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops advised against it, saying he would rather give the current government in Philipsburg the benefit of the doubt because of the commitment they have shown on this issue up to now.
Indeed, parties involved need to get behind the minister and her new team to finally make what everybody wants to see in terms of a modern, decent prison that successfully rehabilitates many inmates a reality, step by step, little by little.