THE HAGUE--Out of the thirty million euros that the Dutch government is making available to improve detention facilities in St. Maarten, twenty million euros will serve to construct a new prison on the island.
Dutch State Secretary of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Raymond Knops confirmed this in a letter he sent to the Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Thursday, as part of his response to a written consultation initiated by Parliament’s Permanent Committee for Kingdom Relations.
The 30 million euros that The Hague is allocating will substantially contribute to the implementation of the 2018 plan of approach drafted by the Department of Judicial Institutions (DJI) of the Ministry of Justice and Security V&J, and the detention facilities as a whole. Twenty million euros of this contribution will go towards the construction of a new prison.
“The current prison building does not suffice due to the capacity that is too limited. Also, it is so out of date and damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria that constructing a new facility is the most efficient way to accomplish sustainable improvements,” stated Knops.
According to the state secretary, St. Maarten at this time is unable to finance the plan of approach due its problematic financial situation. The remaining 10 million euros will be used to finance other parts of the plan of approach in the coming five years so the entire detention sector will be strengthened.
In this manner, the Dutch government is supporting the role of the St. Maarten Ministry of Justice in the implementation of the plan of approach. The Netherlands will contribute to appointing a programme manager in the course of this year.
Also, The Hague will assist with a human resources advisor for the prison. The educational institute of the DJI department will be approached to provide training and education for prison personnel.
St. Maarten and the Netherlands will jointly procure the services of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) to construct a new prison. UNOPS will shortly carry out a preliminary assessment.
Knops said that Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker and he both shared the concerns of the parties in the Second Chamber about the detention facilities in St. Maarten. “I conclude that the improving of the detention facilities can no longer wait,” he stated.
Even though St. Maarten carries the responsibility for law enforcement, including the detention facilities, since it became an autonomous country on October 10, 2010, it is clear that it is dealing with “persistent problems” and St. Maarten has booked “too little progress” where it comes to improving the detention situation, noted Knops.
“The signals and conclusions of institutions such as the St. Maarten Progress Committee, the Law Enforcement Council, the European Human Rights Court and the Human Rights Council are clear: improvements to the detention facilities can no longer wait. As I have stated before, the issue requires a forceful approach,” said the state secretary.
Once more asked by some parties in the Dutch Parliament when the Netherlands would intervene, Knops reiterated that he was not convinced that intervention by taking over the responsibility for St. Maarten’s detention facilities was “the best choice at this moment.”
The state secretary noted that this responsibility was still in the hands of the St. Maarten government, and that taking this away would infringe too much on St. Maarten’s autonomous position. “I see the willingness of St. Maarten to now take steps in the area of detention facilities in combination with the offered assistance, the measures in relation to the country package and the one-time 30-million-euro contribution as the right way to arrive at the long-desired improvement of the detention conditions,” he stated.
According to Knops, this approach befits the past adopted motions and the concerns of the Second Chamber. “For the government it is not about the form of or the basics of the improvements, but to achieve the objective: improving the detention circumstances. I again emphasise that the detention situation is St. Maarten’s responsibility.”
In response to questions about the container cells that the Netherlands supplied to St. Maarten in 2019, Knops stated that St. Maarten authorities informed him that these had not been put into use as yet.
St. Maarten has cited as reason the high cost associated with the installation, as well as concerns about suitability because of hurricanes. UNOPS will look at whether the container cells can be deployed to temporarily increase the cell capacity.