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We are missing empathy and transparency!

heerenveen28022023PHILIPSBURG:--- I have taken a hiatus to observe if there were any changes happening or if the intent of the change was put in the plan. Many movements were made by the Ministry of Justice, which I appreciate although we still have a lot of work to do.
I attended the court hearing in Philipsburg on the 17th of February 2023 at 3 pm, Prison Association vs Land Sint Maarten. (Kortgeding= summary Judgement)
The prison association was present and accompanied by their legal representative, Miss Rosenburg. while the opposite party, Country Sint Maarten was represented by Mr. Carty (director of the Point Blanch Prison) and their legal representative, whose name I cannot recall. Furthermore, I recognized a few members of the Ministry of Justice and some family members of the managing board of the Prison Association.
Not to go into too many details, the judge gave both parties the opportunity to meet on Monday the 20th of February 2023, to deliberate and see how they can come together and come up with a solution. If that would not be sufficient and they could not come to an agreement, then she would be compelled to give a verdict a few days after the scheduled meeting.
Again, What I observed, in my opinion, was the lack of leadership coming from the Point Blanch Prison’s director. He seemed to not have a clue what was going on in his own prison. When asked what was the reason for the strike, to me, it felt as if he was lost at the time. There were many issues that came to the forefront that had no valid points and logic to them but were used as excuses to debunk the statements of the prison association. The arrogance was also presented by the members of the Ministry of Justice, for example, laughing at Miss Rosenburg when she was making her statement. I felt very confused and disappointed. No wonder with the attitude and arrogance portrayed by the Legal team of Country Sint Maarten the trust and willingness to deliberate have been postponed for the longest.
They showed no empathy towards the Prison association, and instead carried the behavior of “you peasants are bothering us”. It’s a sad thing when people lose empathy toward one another.
Some of the discussions that were brought forward by the Prison Association were about the handling of the food, the medical problems occurring momentarily, the lack of guards, and the lockdown.
Some of these points I have written about in my prior articles, therefore I will not discuss them at this time but will refer to them at a later time. What I will be discussing in this article is the lack of guards and the treatment the guards are receiving from prison management.
In the court case, the word “ziekteverzuim” (sick leave) was mentioned continuously. First, the legal representative stated that they have enough guards working and later stated that many guards are absent because of the “ziekteverzuim”. This statement was so confusing to me, thus I decided to sit with some of the guards and hear their side of the story. And so, they did with documents and all.
Currently, there are severe power struggles and intimidation going on toward the guards. Hence this stems from management. It appears that the director is either not aware of the situation or he is allowing his management team to do as they, please. When I speak of the management team, I am referring to Mr. Bell and Mr. Clark (management team), since it appears that the opinion of the director does not make any difference in the prison.
My question for the Ministry of Justice is, when the above-mentioned personnel was placed in such a vital position was there an assessment done of their capability? And if so, what were the results? Or have they been placed there because of political affiliation and/ or friends? When I read Hoofdstuk II, Aanstelling en bevordering, Article 5, Article 6 and Article 14 of the Landsverordering materieel ambtenarenrecht, I wondered if some members of the management team fulfilled all the requirements stated in these articles. Where are the exceptions made to some of these articles? And if yes, where is the transparency?
Note: This personnel was placed in this position before our current Honorable Minister of Justice therefore we cannot put all the blame on her. Even though I wonder if she has ever considered going back into their files and seeing if maybe an assessment must be done to make sure the prison system can improve with the current management team or replacement should be appointed.
Before I get to some of the individual cases, it has been brought to my attention that many guards feel that management does not care about their livelihood. They are put under severe stress and pressure. Furthermore, because of the shortage of staff, there are days that several guards need to cover 16-plus hour shifts. One specific management team member has been placing guards from the Philipsburg jail to Point Blanch and back and forth while being aware that some guards are not capable of working such ridiculously long hours and/ or work at the Point Blanch prison, because of their health such as back problems and knee problems. The guards are feeling that there is no consideration when it comes to their health, instead, they are placed to work in hazardous areas such as having to work “huisdienst” which means the back area where there are 80 inmates and only 2 guards to watch over 80 inmates. Furthermore, it has been brought many times to the attention of management that they are overworking the guards, and nothing has been done. Because of the danger of working in the back as some of the guards call it, they feel stressed and unsafe at their workplace. Thus, my concern, is how in God’s name is it possible that management is risking the lives of these men and women that leave their homes daily to contribute to our society and must pray every day and hope that they will make it back home safely. Where is the empathy, where is the common sense, where is the logic in all of this?
Moreover, the sad thing is hearing a lawyer in the courtroom talking on “ziekteverzuim” and “we zijn bezig met het afvloeiing’s process” knowing darn well that management is the cause of the high percentage of sick leave and isn’t doing anything to find a feasible solution. How long do you think the guards are able to withstand this treatment?
Furthermore, after seeing the Salary Scale of the guards of 2012 it has been brought to my attention that most guards did not move from their scale since 2012, with no indexation, no anything. These guards have been working on an unlivable wage for many years. This is unacceptable! I cannot only blame this current ministry, but I will have to blame all of them who were responsible before this ministry took its place. How can you expect a person to work in a position of serving and protecting and paying them the salary of a cashier? This is incomprehensible and insulting to each working guard. Putting their lives in harm’s way for a penny should be the new motto. Ridiculous!! Nevertheless, the guards are wondering what is the status of the Nagico insurance that has been deducted from their salaries since 2014? They informed us about a situation where a guard went to collect her coverage which she thought she was entitled to, but on collection been informed that no payment has been made by the Management and/ or HR from the Point Blanch prison. I would like to know, just like the guards do, is this true? If not, can they please receive proof of the active status of this insurance since it gets deducted from their salaries? Again, transparency is key!
What happened to the function book for the guards? When is it ready? On which scales are the salaries based? Based on what educational requirements are the positions established? Have you considered work experience as a factor when placing the guards on a new scale as stated in the new function book? What will happen to the guards that don’t meet the educational requirement in the new function book but have years of experience? Have the guards been given the opportunity to further educate themselves or is that happening only now? There are many questions that the guards and I would like to know, when can they expect some clarity?
The answer is simple: Transparency, Transparency, Transparency!
The guards are screaming for help, and no one is looking in their direction. Where is the union when they need one? The union is very silent when it comes to the guards.
Discussing further with a few guards on the current situation, a few of them also brought to my attention that favoritism plays a major role in that organization, especially, when it comes to promotions and transfers to other sectors within the Justice department such as immigration. There are guards that have been requesting transfers for many years and did not get approved and when asked why a valid reason could never be given, some just started working as guards and after a short time of working in the prison got promoted or transferred to other departments. Thus, when making the decision on transferring a guard what are the requirements or stipulations a guard must adhere to be able to qualify? Or is it the guards that management like, only get the opportunity to transfer? In addition, there are staff members of the prisons (guards) that are currently transferred to other departments within the justice department and are still on the payroll of the Point Blanch prison (“uitgeleend aan” personnel). With the lack of guards currently working at the prison, “Uitgeleend aan” how is it that the personnel are not called back to duty, knowing that they are needed? What is the reason for this? It is not logical that you have staff on the prison payroll placed in other departments while your own department is suffering from a severe shortage. Make it make sense management, please!!
These unnecessary confusions are caused because of the lack of transparency coming from management.
Moreover, the guards are not being rewarded or appreciated for their daily commitment and hard work but are constantly getting reprimanded by the management team. The constant show of power is very visible by him, especially in the director’s absence. (The director was absent from work recently for a short period in February 2023 don’t know for sure if it was for vacation or work-related). Some of the guards stated that in the director’s absence, a particular management team member abused his power and retracted many decisions made by the director
Note: these accusations have been brought to the attention of the Honorable Minister of Justice in the meeting held with the guards on the 4th of February 2023.
To culminate this article, I will inform you of the case of a guard who gave me the authorization to tell her story. She gave me permission to use her name, but I decided to only use her initials. I will not discuss the additional stories from the other guards that were present at the meetings because they fear repercussions from management knowing that they are currently working with a few very vindictive members of the executive team.
Guard J.M has been working for more than 20 years as a prison guard in both Curacao and Sint Maarten. Never has she received a warning letter or been chastised for any wrongdoing. She has always been liked and appreciated by all management team before this current one. On March 1st, 2015, J.M was promoted to the temporary position of Chef Huisdienst through a “landbesluit” issued on the 26th of April 2016- No LB-16/0229. Ms. J.M fulfilled this position for 5 years while she was only scheduled to take that position for 6 months. During her work as the Chef Huisdienst, she never received a negative evaluation, whereas she only had a positive evaluation, and the staff was satisfied with her in that position. After 5 years of hard work, Ms. J.M receives a Communique GWS 042/2020 from Mr. Bell, stating that she is no longer in that position and that she will be demoted back to Guard “Bewaker Eerste Klasse”. No explanation was given to her, no warning, no nothing. But if you read Article 25 and 26 of the “Landsverodering materieel ambternarenrecht” you will see that if an “ambtenaar” is in a position longer than the required amount (3 years) she or he shall keep the position or has the right to the position. What lack of respect do you show your staff by not informing them of the decision that concerns their position? Furthermore, management did not post an internal or external vacancy for that position but just replaced Ms. J M with another person without informing her of the changes. Where is the transparency expected from management? Based on what qualification was Ms. J M replaced? These are all valid questions that deserve an answer. Additionally, on the 18th of February 2021, Ms. J M, with the assistance of her lawyer, wrote a letter to the Directorate of the Point Balance Prison and send a copy to the Honorable Minister of Justice Anna Richardson about this situation and never received an answer to her objection letter. Not even a “Hello dog we received it”, these types of behavior show the arrogance and the lack of empathy coming from the management and Ministry of Justice.
In addition to her prior situation, she has been wrongfully accused simultaneously with two other guards originating from Curacao for allowing, according to management, a murder to take place in the Point Blanch prison in 2016. No proper investigation was conducted by management and when it was proven that all 3 of the guards were innocent, nothing was done on behalf of management for their safety, knowing that these guards were receiving many death threats. In addition, not even an apology letter was sent, or a conversation was held with them asking them if they needed “Slachoffer hulp” or mental health assistance. These guards were left to their own devices. Ever since these incidents, Ms. J M has been living under a lot of stress. This caused her health to severely deteriorate. She is currently dealing with severe health issues while debating if to continue her battle for fair and righteous treatment from management.
She deserves respect just like all other guards who are going through similar issues.
I am bringing these stories to the forefront because Sint Maarten citizens need to know what is going on in our main Prison (rehabilitation center). It is not only the prisoners who are getting violated but also the guards are getting abused.
We need to do better, and it starts at the top. Remember these are the men and women that serve and protect; therefore, we need to treat them with the respect they deserve.
I ask the Ministry of Justice to please show empathy to the staff members of “huis van bewaring” departments that form part of your Ministry. Treat them with respect. (Because remember at the end of the day, a Minister is always replaceable.)
Thus, never forget where you come from......

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