PHILIPSBURG- On Friday, June 19, 2020 the Court of First Instance returned with a decision after reviewing a petition filed by 37 inmates and their attorneys against the Government of St. Maarten and the Minister of Justice. The court ruled that the claims are not admissible thereby ruling in the favor of the Government of Sint Maarten.
Although the outcome of the ruling being in the favor of Government and the monetary claims of the plaintiffs being dismissed, there is very little cause for celebration. The well-being of the inmates, staff and management are top priority for ministerRichardson and she remains committed to improving the situation at the prison. This matter continues to have her full attention.
In response to the verdict, Minister Richardson said: “I am grateful that the court ruled in favor of Government and was able to identify that there was no basis on which the claim could succeed. With just two months in office, my team and I are working diligently on projects and plans to ensure that the situation at our detention facilities are improved while simultaneously laying the groundwork to construct a new facility. This new facility will include consistent positive development programs aimed at rehabilitating the minds and attitudes of the inmates. With this court case now behind us, the Ministry of Justice will continue to push forward in cooperation with the Ministry of VROMI, consulting with UNOPS and with the assistance of SOAB and other technical experts to finally make strides with this very pressing matter.
The Minister of Justice has further taken note that on Monday, June 22, 2020, the Kingdom Relations Memorandum will be held in the Dutch House of Representatives by the Kingdom Relations Committee, in the presence of State Secretary of the Interior and Kingdom Relations Knops, Minister of Justice and Security Grapperhausand Minister for Legal Protection Dekker. During this meeting, reports from the Sint Maarten Progress Committee and the Law Enforcement Council are on the agenda. It is further understood that the Dutch Member of Parliament Chris van Dam of the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) will put forward motion during this consultation that involves the intervention of the Kingdom Council of Ministers in the prison system on Sint Maarten. Minister Richardson learned of this upcoming motion by way of an email sent to the Parliament of St. Maarten by the Dutch MP.
In his email, Van Dam expressed the sentiments that many have long held, which is that the situation in the Pointe Blanche prison is deeply concerning. He acknowledges that this concern exists on both sides of the Atlantic. However, despite all of the good intentions, he notes that Sint Maarten has been unable to solve the situation on its own. As it relates to improving the human rights situation, Van Dam is of the opinion that this cannot be put off any longer and feels the responsibility to help find a solution.
Minister Richardson says that she is open to all support aimed at improving the situation in St. Maarten’s detention facilities. Any positive contribution towards overcoming challenges that the country is facing is an opportunity to continue to move the country forward. The Minister will be contacting her Dutch counterparts to discuss the Van Dam motion, their response to it and how the motion can complement the plans Minister Richardson has been working on since taking office.
The Minister has developed a phased approach to the prison and has consulted with different stakeholders involved. As it relates to pertinent phases in the process such as the current detention capacity, engineers within the Ministry of VROMI have drawn up preliminary plans for a temporary new facility and steps are being undertaken to have these plans executed. SOAB is putting the finishing touches on the proposal that will serve to inform all parties that will be involved in assisting St. Maarten in building a new prison facility, of the country’s vision.
Having a state of the art facility without adequate daytime activities and proper programs for detainees does not help the community and will be ineffective, as offenders do not have the opportunity to better themselves while serving their sentence. To avoid this pitfall, minister Richardson has sought input from various stakeholders such as the Foundation Judicial Institutes Sint Maarten (SJIB) to ensure that the construction of any new facility takes all factors involved with the purpose of incarcerating a person into consideration. Minister Richardson believes that it is very important to continue to involve all the relevant partners in the construction of a new prison. This collaborative approach will help to ensure that appropriate and effective steps are taken throughout the entire process.