PHILIPSBURG--The St. Maarten Police Force KPSM had to be called to the Pointe Blanche prison early Friday afternoon because disgruntled inmates broke out of their cells after not having been fed for the entire day. The situation arose because a group of prison guards walked off their jobs, leaving too few to effectively manage the prison.
According to information received by The Daily Herald, several prison guards did not work on Friday. Reports indicate that the guards went on “strike” by walking out of the prison to talk to their union representatives.
The motivations for the “strike” are unclear. However, recent events have hinted at prison staff dissatisfaction.
Correctional officers and other personnel of the Pointe Blanche prison met with Justice Minister Anna Richardson on May 13 to discuss their challenges and grievances. Richardson told the guards that she is “actively dedicated” to finding concrete, long-term solutions for the employees’ problems, which include poor working conditions and severe staff shortages.
Friday’s situation left too few remaining guards at the house of detention, and inmates were not given breakfast or let out of their cells. The frustrated and hungry inmates later broke out of their confinement and clamoured outside, demanding food and better treatment.
Police were called to the prison to feed the inmates and maintain order. Officers gave the inmates their meals around 3:00pm, roughly five hours later than usual.
Inmates are typically given breakfast between 7:30 and 8:00am, said lawyer Sjamira Roseburg. “The violation of the rights of the inmates continues. Now that the guards are striking it is even worse,” she said.
Friday’s situation at the prison is not an isolated incident. Police have been called to the prison to maintain order at least two other times in the past week, and sources say inmates are “getting locked up [for – Ed.] 24 hours on a regular basis.”
Inmates at the Pointe Blanche prison have repeatedly made calls for better conditions, which culminated in Monday’s letter from the lawyers of 37 inmates to Justice Minister Anna Richardson. The letter sets a seven-day ultimatum to bring the circumstances in the prison to an “acceptable security and humanitarian level.”
The letter comes after last week’s verdict in the Court of First Instance that deemed the injunction filed by the 37 inmates inadmissible. The detainees had called on the Court to order Country St. Maarten and its minister of justice to transfer all 37 detainees to safe prisons in the Netherlands and Bonaire within seven days after a verdict. They had also called on the Judge to award damages of US $1,000 per day, with a maximum of $10 million, in case of non-compliance.
Inmates have also gone on strike at least two times this year, the latest of which occurred in late May. As part of the strike, inmates refused to do any form of labour within the prison, such as washing, cleaning, and cooking.
The strike in May was called following two altercations earlier that month in which several inmates were injured in fights with other inmates. In the second of these incidents, an inmate had to be hospitalised due to the severity of his injuries.