Heyliger-Marten concerned about the Pointe Blanche Prison inmates

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PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten — The plight of the Pointe Blanche Prisoners, who expressed their sufferings through a letter to the Editor of The Daily Herald, has caught the attention of the Faction Leader for the United People’s Party UP-Party in Parliament, Grisha Heyliger-Marten.

She has dispatched a letter to Minister of Justice Anna Richardson requesting her to urgently provide clarity on the actual living conditions of the inmates who say they live below the acceptable international standards of prison conditions. The inmates have explained through their letter published on August 22nd, 2021 that they presently live in degrading and inhumane conditions, compounded by hurricane damage from 2017 which to date have not been addressed.

In her letter to Minister Richardson, MP Heyliger-Marten said, “Based on the concerns expressed in the letter, I believe that the Government cannot wait until the execution of the UNOPS project proposal to replace the current Pointe Blanche Prison and House of Detention is completed.”

She is also particularly concerned about the short term plans of the Government to house the inmates when the prison reconstruction finally starts, and how doing this will take into account the inmates’ need to maintain contact with their families while they are incarcerated.

The inmates’ claims include allegations that since 2017 Government sent sixty of its inmates from St. Maarten to The Netherlands. This was intended to make room for the repair work that should have commenced shortly after the hurricane had passed. Since then, the inmates remain abroad and sixty or more new inmates have replaced them at the prison while the prison conditions remain the same.

Another point of contention for the inmates was the fact that while 80 per cent of the inmates were of ages ranging from 19 to 25, no rehabilitation programs were in place, and no extracurricular activity to sharpen the young inmates’ minds and prepare them for returning to society were available. This was a clear dereliction of duty of the Minister of Justice, who the prisoners say had already indicated that she did not need the job. In the letter, the inmates suggested that if she did not need the job she could make way for someone else who was desirous of solving their problems.

“I cannot imagine what it is like living below standard, and no one should have to live in the conditions described by these inmates. They have complained time and again, and I believe their concerns are not being taken seriously. If it is a case where the Justice Minister does not have the human resources needed to solve the problems she faces, or if the assistance is not being received, then I am urging her to come to the house of parliament and let us know so we can help.”

MP Heyliger-Marten is asking the Minister of Justice to explain whether the wishes and needs of the Government and the local cultural and other specific circumstances of St. Maarten were being sufficiently being taken into account when planning the construction of a new prison.

She also wants to know the agreed role of the Kingdom Government with regards to the maintenance of the Pointe Blanche Prison, and whether Justice Minister Richardson was in agreement with the opinion of former Dutch MP Chris van Dam that the justice/prison system of St. Maarten should be temporarily taken over by the Dutch Government.

“Would this, in your opinion, be in accordance with the international obligations of the Netherlands?” asked MP Heyliger-Marten. She also expressed concerns over the Justice Ministry’s capacity to address the many challenges it faces where it pertains to security and safety for inmates and in general. Heyliger-Marten asked the Minister in her letter whether she was addressing the shortage issues within the Ministry and in particular the Prison.

“If the Minister does not have adequate staffing for her Ministry and execute the necessary programs then she needs to ask for help or do whatever is necessary to secure these required human resources,” said Heyliger-Marten.