2022 Prison Action Plan aims to improve detention facility

2022 Prison Action Plan aims  to improve detention facility

Minister of Justice Anna Richardson and her support staff presented the 2022 Prison Action Plan to Parliament’s Committee of Justice on Wednesday, February 3.

PHILIPSBURG--The prison’s management and programme teams have recently established the 2022 Prison Action Plan with support from the Ministry of Justice. Minister of Justice Anna Richardson explained that it focuses on improving safety and security, buildings and terrain, personnel matters, inmate care and activities, internal and external communication, and business operations.

  This was stated in a public meeting of Parliament’s Committee of Justice on Wednesday, February 3, aimed at updating the Members of Parliament (MPs) on several justice matters.


The House of Detention at Pointe Blanche

The plan was derived from the 2018 Detention Action Plan. It covers several priority areas and implements recommendations and measures from all monitoring bodies such as the Progress Committee, the Law Enforcement Council, the country package and more, said Richardson

  Safety and security improvements will focus on the renewal of security installations and protocols such as cameras, access scanners, lighting, screening and cell inspections, she said. The installation of new cell locks was completed in 2021, meaning that all cells now have a heavy-duty cell lock.

  According to Richardson, the Ministry of Justice is currently working on the terms of reference for the public bid for the installation and repair of other security items. Additionally, protocols for screening, electronic monitoring and cell inspection are included in the action plan, said Richardson.

  The plan’s second topic covers the necessary improvements for the prison’s building and terrain. The renovations to the workshop and the chapel, major clean-ups of the facility and improvements to the recreational areas are high on the agenda, said Richardson.

  The public bid for the renovation of the workshop and chapel was published and Richardson said she expects to receive proposals from interested contractors by February 14. Once a contractor has been awarded the project, the building process is expected to be completed within seven months.

  “A plan of action has also been made to spruce up and/or renovate the recreational areas such as their airspaces, the gym, the library, the sewing room and much more,” said Richardson.

  The next item on the Action Plan refers to the prison’s personnel challenges. “As you know, the prison has dealt with a large number of challenges with regard to structural staff shortages,” the minister said.

  These challenges lead to a high workload and an increasing number of sick reports and absentees. “In order to break this vicious cycle, the decision has been made to work with the company MedWorks to help reduce absenteeism at the prison,” said Richardson.

  Medworks conducted in October 2021 the first assessment of persons who have been absent for a longer period. The company’s aim is to ensure that the staff can get back to work as quickly as reasonably possible, said the minister. If the employee cannot return to work, they will be placed in another position within the Ministry of Justice or St. Maarten government and new personnel will be recruited, she added.

  A Human Resources Action Plan has also been established to reduce the high levels of absenteeism by improving internal working processes in the prison system.

  Inmate care and the development of a daytime programme are also part of the action plan. Activity programmes are to be reintroduced, the sewing room is operational and new gym equipment is expected to arrive in the second week of February, Richardson said. Once the workshop and the chapel are repaired, she said, those will also add to the inmates’ daily activities.

  The Minister of Justice also told the MPs about her plans to reintroduce family days for the inmates. The last family days were held in September 2001. Based on good behaviour, the inmates will be given the opportunity to each receive four family members for three hours every three months.

  Additionally, the prison’s outdated house rules have been updated as requested by several MPs and the Law Enforcement Council. “We are currently in the final stage of establishing the house rules,” Richardson said. Once the English version is formally established by new Prison Director Steven Carty, the rules will be translated into French, Spanish and Dutch. All inmates will receive a copy in their preferred language and prison personnel will strictly enforce the new house rules, the minister said.

  Additionally, she said that, considering the closure of many Dutch prisons, discussions are being held between her ministry and authorities in the Netherlands about the possibility of sending prison equipment and goods to St. Maarten.

  The ministry is still looking into two options for inmate dental care, said Richardson. The inmates will either be transported to a dental clinic, or the ministry will hire an in-house dentist. MP George Pantophlet later suggested a mobile dental clinic. Richardson said she will take that option into consideration.

  The plan also includes improvements for the detention centre’s internal communication and the communication with external stakeholders.

  Finally, the action plan also covers the business operational aspect, including the prison’s financial processes and information and communication technology (ICT). All public tenders and current contracts will be assessed, and all used programmes and systems will be audited regarding the current state of affairs to create more efficiency, she added.

  The 2022 Action Plan is a working document with both short-term and long-term improvements. It includes items to be completed in the first half of this year and the plan will be evaluated and amended as necessary, Richardson said.

  Some of the improvements were included in the country’s 2022 budget, but those funds will not cover all the projects. Richardson expressed her gratitude for a grant from the Netherlands: 300,000 euros for the workshop and chapel repairs, and 155,000 euros for technical installation and staff training.

  Additionally, the Netherlands has allocated 30 million euros for the improvement of the detention facility, of which 20 million is for the construction of a new prison and the remaining 10 million for the necessary repairs of the current detention facility. In 2022, an amount of two million euros will be made available for improvements to the current prison, Richardson concluded.

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