PHILIPSBURG:--- In the week of May 3 to May 6, the Interparliamentary Kingdom Consultations (IPKO) was held in St. Maarten as the host country in which delegations from the Parliaments of St. Maarten, Aruba, Curaçao, and the Netherlands participated. The main goal of the consultations was to discuss topics of mutual interest such as current bottlenecks, proposals for improvement, recent developments per country, the country package and its measures, the proposal for the Caribbean Body for Reform and Development (COHO), healthcare, the financial sector, economic reforms, education and more.
During the session on May 5, the Pointe Blanche Prison Director, Mr. Steven Carty, was invited to present the recent developments within the prison system. The Honorable Minister of Justice, Anna E. Richardson, and the support staff of the Ministry of Justice were also in attendance. The presentation delved into several topics, starting with a general background of the three detention facilities, being the Pointe Blanche Prison and House of Detention, HVB (Huis van Bewaring) Philipsburg police holding cells, and the Miss Lalie Youth Detention & Rehabilitation Center.
Mr. Carty went on to discuss the main bottlenecks currently experienced within the prison system. One of the main challenges at the Point Blanch prison particularly is the age of the current infrastructure. The physical state of the detention facilities worsened considerably due to the passage of catastrophic, category 5 Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017. The buildings, equipment, and overall organizational capacity of the justice sector institutions were directly impacted by the hurricanes. This resulted in risks to public safety and security in St. Maarten. The virus SARS-CoV-2, which was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020, further hampered the operations at the prison as educational programs were halted, and the movement within the prison was kept at a minimum to prevent transmission. In addition, the limitations in financial, policy, and human resources were discussed. There are quite some challenges that have been identified in terms of manpower and personnel.
Although there are clear challenges that the prison is faced with, there have been quite some positive developments over the past 6 months. Firstly, a permanent director with renewed management team has been appointed and established, which has brought much stability and movement within the prison thus far. Aside from this team, upon the request of Minister Richardson, assistance has been provided by the Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations (BZK). A prison program team comprised of two experts, that being a prison program manager and an HR manager, has been deployed from the Netherlands since December 2021, to assist in implementing the improvements needed within the prison system.
Since then, a 2022 prison plan of approach has been drafted, from which great improvements have already been realized. Large renovations have already taken place at the prison, security systems are being repaired and installed, the inmate day-time program has been improved whereby inmates participate in GED classes and human resources matters such as the high levels of absenteeism are being tackled. The first group of prison officers has also officially started their re-fresher courses. Aside from the recent developments within the current prison, some information was also provided on the new prison construction developments.
On May 6, the IPKO’s day program started with a visit to the prison facility. All delegations were provided the opportunity to tour the Point Blanche Prison facility and become more familiar with the prison departments. The Members of Parliament alongside the Minister of Justice, Anna E. Richardson, were welcomed by the prison management team and led up to the conference room for the introductory meeting. The tour included, the recreational areas such as the air spaces, the renovated gym, and more.