PHILIPSBURG:--- In the last couple of days, we have been barraged with information on the miss management by the Management team and Minister of Justice and the lack of health supervision happening in the Philipsburg holding cells and Point Blanche prison in Sint Maarten.
Many of us have read articles written by key persons in our community, but few were the ones really tackling the main problem and bringing possible solutions to the forefront.
Before going into the Saga of the Point Blanch Prison, I would like to show my sympathy to the family members of any person that became a victim of an incarcerated person. This article is not to talk positively about any person in the system, because when you commit a crime you should do the time, but it is to bring awareness to the human rights violations committed against a detainee.
As a detainee you have rights, and these rights are written in the “Landsbesluit, Houdende Algemene Maatregelen, Houdend Vaststelling van Gevangenismaatregel’. Therefore, by law, the Country of Sint Maarten must abide by these laws.
Many violations are occurring currently at the Point Blanch Prison, although, the first dilemma I will talk about in this article will be the Health Care provided to the detainees.
According to Article 7 Lid 1 of the “Landsbesluit, Houdende Algemene Maatregelen, Houdend
Vaststelling van Gevangenismaatregel”, the Minister, assisted by the head of services, and the directors, are responsible for appropriate medical care for the detainees. This has not been happening for years according to the Prison Association Representative. During my visit with a member of the prison association, many points were brought to my attention.
Some of the points discussed that are related to this article are:
- According to the law, at the arrival of a new inmate, the prisoner must be examined within 24 hours of his or her intake (Article 8 lid 1). This has not been happening under the law. Many new inmates did not get a health check but instead have just been asked regular questions about their health by a prison guard instead of the required specialized medical caregiver as indicated by law. This is a very problematic issue that can be a health threat to other inmates.
- The medical representatives were always prescribing a once-a-week prescription of Xanax 1.5 mg (alprazolam) to the detainees, which was to treat anxiety and panic disorders but since they are out of Xanax they have replaced the medication with Dormicum which consists of 15mg per dose which is 10 times stronger than the previous Xanax provided. Most inmates do not feel at ease taking such a strong medicine and believe that other options should be provided to the inmates.
- Another point that has been neglected by the Minister and the management team of the prison is the presence of medical staff at Point Blanche. It has been noticeable by many that there is barely any medical staff present during the day. When an inmate becomes ill, he or she often has to wait for the nurse of the second shift to arrive to be able to attend a medical visit. In short, there is barely a medical nurse onsite. According to the inmates, the nurse does not properly take the time to examine the inmate but always rushes them off so she can continue with other things. The mannerism in which the inmates get treated by some of the medical staff is inappropriate and inhumane. This statement has been backed up by some of the staff members of the Point Blanche prison.
- The constant absence of a medical doctor at the facility is one of the main concerns of the detainees. The doctor is only present once a week and for the remainder of the week, the detainees would have to fend for themselves while hoping that a nurse will be present for their assigned shift.
- The case of the inmate, F. Jerome, has been a situation that has been worrying many prisoners in the Point Blanche Prison. This inmate has been suffering from a severe infection stemming from his abdomen for many years. According to the Prisoners Association, this inmate is not receiving the proper medical treatment. He has been pleading for proper care but is only receiving shots in his abdomen as medication. It has been brought to my knowledge by the member of the Prison Association that the Sint Maarten medical system is denying to perform surgery, even though the French side is willing to do so. Inmate Jerome even suggested taking the responsibility of payment upon himself just to be able to have this surgery. But till today nothing has been done to make sure this inmate gets the proper care he is entitled to. There are staff currently working at the facility that has great concern for the health of inmate F. Jerome. Note: If an inmate needs to be treated outside of the facility, the Director can assign 1 or more prison guards or any assigned personnel (Article 11 Lid 4) to guard and accompany the inmate, but this is hardly ever done. Why?
Taking treatment outside of prison does not mean the inmate has to be liberated. After receiving their specified treatment, he or they shall return to prison to sit out the remainder of their sentence.
- Furthermore, there is a lack of proper mental health care provided for the detainees. Many of these inmates suffer from mental health issues and are not treated properly. According to the Raad voor de rechtshandhaving (December 2016), it has been advised the government of Sint Maarten that the organization needs to hire a psychologist or specialized social worker to treat these inmates as soon as possible. It is a mandatory service to help inmates deal with their mental state. To this date, it is not up to par.
The above-mentioned points are a few of the medical problems and inconsistencies that the inmates incarcerated in the Point Blanch Prison are facing daily. The excuse of shortage in the budget and the Minister constantly promising to investigate the situation are disrupting the correct progress from occurring.
Rendering to Article 14 and Article 15 Lid 1, the Minister, assisted in this by the head of the service and the directors, ensures that the cell areas, workshops, areas for personal and MEDICAL CARE, kitchens, as well as the facilities and equipment contained therein, meet the requirements that apply to them, given the state of the art of knowledge in health sciences and the state of art, may reasonably be claimed.
These Articles have been violated by the Minister and current persons in command and have not been handled accordingly. The only response the prisoners are receiving is that they are working on the progress, and they will just have to wait.
How long does it take to handle these issues, where is the structure, where is the management, and where is the Minister? On this small island, too many of the human rights of the detainees are being violated. And this has been documented in the report from Raad voor de Rechtshandhaving: enitentiaire inrichting Sint Maarten dated December 2016.
Once more, I do not condone criminal activities but as a community, we need to realize that prison, death, and hospitals don’t discriminate. Any person can get themself in an undesired situation that can land them in the prison system. And none of us would like to go through a neglected medical system.
With all the violations presently occurring in the Detainee centers in Sint Maarten, especially Point Blanch, it should be looked into getting Point Blanch under higher supervision if no changes are made within the next year. It is time that parliament demands answers and explanations on the so-called plans of reform.
We need to respect human rights and we need to implement them according to the law of the land.
Let’s listen to all voices and take these matters into serious consideration. The inmates are screaming to be heard and the guards are working in an unpleasant as well as the dangerous environment and all we can read in the news is “We are working on it”.
As a concerned citizen, I believe that all opinions should be stated and heard, and the inmates are as important to our community as a person that enjoys his/her freedom. If we do not shape them into better people while they are in Point Blanch, we are releasing monsters back into our community.
The Point Blanche Saga will continue....