PHILIPSBURG--Fennix Global Technologies, which company chief executive officer (CEO) Chey Rodriguez describes as a “criminal justice solutions provider”, has proposed building a private prison in St. Maarten. If government agrees, the company said it would absolve approximately US $500,000 allegedly owed for an earlier electronic surveillance monitoring project.
Rodriguez and company representative Arthur Lugisse met with Justice Minister Egbert Doran on December 9, 2019, to find “an amicable solution” to the money government allegedly owed the company and to offer building a private prison.
Rodriguez outlined that proposal in a letter dated December 11, 2019. He proposed to enter a build, operate and transfer (BOT) arrangement with government in which Fennix Global would construct a new prison.
The new prison would house approximately 300 inmates and cost around $7.5 million to build. Under the arrangement, Fennix Global would fully equip the new prison and provide several services.
According to the letter, the company’s business model is “similar to a hotel.” Government would pay $130 per inmate per day to the company. However, government would be obligated to pay for 80 per cent occupancy, plus each inmate above that benchmark.
This means that government would be required to pay the company for 240 inmates (at 80 per cent occupancy), translating to a minimum daily cost of $31,200 or about $936,000 per month. Rodriguez said the daily rate of $130 is about half of what government pays per prisoner currently.
Under the arrangement, government would enter into a lease with the company for 20 to 30 years, providing government-owned land for the prison’s construction. After the lease ends, the prison and the technology used inside it will be transferred to government ownership.
St. Maarten would be responsible for the new prison’s administrative and guard personnel. However, they “must be trained and certified” by the company, according to Rodriguez.
In turn, the company would be responsible for the prison’s services and operational cost, including the provision of food and uniforms, and paying for utilities, waste removal and building maintenance.
The company would also provide a digital currency platform that would be used by inmates to make calls to loved ones and to buy items in the commissary. These will be “essential necessities at market prices”, and would potentially allow the company to make additional money by charging for communications and supplying toothpaste, soap, and other such items to inmates.
The proposed agreement also includes that the company’s technology is to be used in electronic monitoring of inmates on release. The company claims its technology is used in more than 90 prisons around the world.
Rodriguez confirmed to The Daily Herald on Friday that this arrangement would be the first of this magnitude undertaken by the company. The company has yet to build and operate a prison, but Rodriguez said several are “in the works” in Angola, Liberia, Guatemala and Panama. Rodriguez did not disclose the exact names of any of these facilities.
If government were to agree to this proposal, Rodriguez said the company would absolve approximately $500,000 allegedly owed to it by government. Fennix Global and then-Justice Minister Dennis Richardson signed a document in May 2014 in which the company would provide electronic monitoring ankle bracelets to the Pointe Blanche prison.
Then-employee of Fennix Global Ryan Clarke and then-Director of the Pointe Blanche prison Edward Rohan reportedly embarked on a 14-month electronic monitoring programme in June 2016. According to Fennix Global, Clarke was dismissed from the company around this time.
By August 2017, the company was threatening to take government to court because it claimed it had not been paid for services rendered.
“I don’t want to say too much on the issue, because the company had indicated that they will bring government to court. There was an agreement and it was terminated because parties were not happy with the service provided. This was before I became Minister. I arrived and the company made the agreements public,” said then-Justice Minister Rafael Boasman in August 2017, adding that the agreement did not constitute a contract.
Boasman also said at the time that he was looking elsewhere for the possibility of electronic monitoring ankle bracelets.
A year later, the company threatened legal action against government again, this time directed at then-Justice Minister Cornelius de Weever. The company said it still had not received any money that it was supposedly owed. De Weever said at the time that Fennix Global had seriously breached privacy and confidentiality by exposing sensitive information to unauthorised third parties.
“The technology St. Maarten tried to use under the last Minister [De Weever – Ed.] with the unsuccessful company was salvage equipment from an old manufacturer of Fennix Global who is not in business any longer,” said Fennix Global in a press release.
The company has not followed through on its threatened legal action and has yet to take government to court. Regarding its prison proposal to government, “We are not trying to cash out [on] what is already owed to Fennix Group. We simply want to resolve and save, with private investment, operational costs to the island,” according to the press release.
“I stand behind what I see as the best option, which is to meet with the Justice Ministry to bring closure to this project with the ankle bracelets and by also signing all the relevant documents for a BOT option. Court settlement should not be a consideration when an amicable solution can easily be found.
“The unfortunate thing was that every Minister of Justice we met never stayed in office long enough to finalise matters. For that reason, we are seeking an audience with the Justice Ministry at their soonest,” said Lugisse.
Doran announced on February 26 that money had been budgeted for a new prison.
He also signed a covenant on February 25 between the Justice Ministry, the Prosecutor’s Office, the St. Maarten Police Force KPSM and Foundation Judicial Institute St. Maarten SJIB to facilitate electronic surveillance in the justice system. This newspaper understands that security services company Comprehensive Security Solutions Inc. (CSSI) will be the provider of the electronic monitoring bracelets in this programme.
Clarke – the former employee of Fennix Global – is CSSI’s Director.