PHILIPSBURG--The Judge in the Court of First Instance will give its decision in the injunction filed by Pointe Blanche Inmates Association (PBIA) against country St. Maarten concerning safety and security concerns and a number of other issues in prison on March 31, it was announced on Friday.
PBIA, with lawyers Sjamira Roseburg and Shaira Bommel as their legal representatives, took Government to Court last month because the safety of prison inmates cannot be guaranteed and the living conditions are considered terrible.
At the end of the injunction hearing on February 28, the Judge urged Government to make a plan of action with a timeline to remedy the “inhumane” situation before March 17.
When parties reconvened on Friday, State Attorney in this case Aernout Kraaijeveld presented a short-term plan to “normalise” the situation in prison within three months, and in taking into account the limited financial means that are at the Minister of Justice’s disposal.
The inmates had submitted a list of 15 grievances to the Judge. These range from lack of safety to terrible living conditions, the lack of education and rehabilitation programmes and no recreation, to a great lack of staff.
According to Country St. Maarten, the inmates’ plans were “simplistic and in fact nothing more than activism.” Instead, Government wants to focus on improving safety of inmates, but also of guards, other prison staff, and visitors,” Kraaijeveld said.
He said a temporary management team consisting of two ad-interim managers are involved with normalising the situation in the prison. To this effect, Prison Director Edward Rohan has temporarily stepped down.
A taskforce, consisting of the Acting Secretary General of Justice, the Chief Prosecutor, the Chief of Police and the Secretary of the Court of Guardianship will be providing advice to the managers and the Minister of Justice concerning improvements, in conjunction with the Plan of Approach, the Action Plan of April 2016, and the recommendations of the Law Enforcement Council.
Without making any commitments to data and deadlines, Kraaijeveld said that containers with a detection gate, and beds, chairs, and sportswear, had arrived at the prison. A new, financially sustainable maintenance plan for 2018 should be ready by April 15. Construction of a fence is set to start on June 16, and locks are expected to be installed by July 31.
The Inmates Association and their lawyers were disappointed with the Ministry’s plans. “Something has been put on paper, but nothing specific,” attorney Sjamira Roseburg said. “This is nothing but a general plan presented to the Court and the media to show that Country St. Maarten is working very hard, but nothing has happened,” she said.
Stating that recently another inmate was attacked in his cell, the lawyer said that the prison cannot wait for a three-month normalisation plan. “I see no concrete plans and steps to improve safety. The situation is still the same. No extra security measures have been taken. The plans look nice on paper but nothing changes in practice,” Roseburg said.
“I heard nothing about detectors, training of guards, recreation and education for inmates, and visiting hours for lawyers. We seem to be floating apart instead of coming together,” Roseburg said in calling for concrete plans and a ruling in this case.
The Ministry admitted that not all of the inmates’ grievances were included in the plans, as the Ministry has to set priorities. “I hear a lot of criticism, but little understanding for the position of the Ministry,” said Kraaijeveld.
“Asking for understanding from detainees may be too much to ask, considering that they are very concerned about their safety and security,” the Judge said in response.
“We want answers to our questions, or Court decisions on these matters,” said Roseburg. The Court will give its decision in two weeks’ time.