Contract signed for prison renovation St. Maarten


PHILIPSBURG--Minister of Justice Roland Duncan and funding agency USONA managing advisor Angela Dekker signed contracts Tuesday afternoon to facilitate the renovation of the Pointe Blanche prison.

Minister Duncan said the modernisation of the prison's sanitary facilities would form a major part of the "extremely needed" renovations, which will be carried out by construction company Liccom. He emphasised that the project was not to expand the prison, but to bring its current facilities up to standard.

Duncan said the renovations would take 24 months, against a total budget of NAf. 7.5 million.

He declined to provide information as to how exactly prisoners would be moved from Pointe Blanche to Simpson Bay and vice versa due to safety reasons, but said the renovations would be carried out per prison block and with inmates' human rights being taken into consideration.

The signing of the contract for the prison renovation came on the heels of a report by two Dutch justice experts who had looked at the situation of detainees in cells at the Philipsburg police station and at the Pointe Blanche prison early last year. According to these experts, essential human rights of people locked up in St. Maarten's police cells were being violated and the hygienic situation at the prison had deteriorated.

Without mentioning an exact time frame, Duncan said the renovations were to start as soon as prison inmates could be relocated temporarily to the new detention facilities on the top floor of the renovated police station in Simpson Bay.

"Construction of the Pointe Blanche prison is to start as soon as we're ready to move inmates to Simpson Bay," Duncan said.

He said the prison renovation fit in his ministry's plans to "substantially" change the way in which persons were being detained. One of the changes will be that persons held in pre-trial detention and persons who already have been tried and are sitting out prison sentences no longer will be detained at the same location.

This is prescribed by law, but up until now St. Maarten never had a separate so-called House of Detention (Huis van Bewaring).

Duncan said the "brand-new, totally modern" cells in the Philipsburg police station as well as the top floor of the police station in Simpson Bay had been designated recently as Houses of Detention. Management of the Houses of Detention and of the Pointe Blanche prison will be put in the hands of the prison director.

The old situation, in which suspects were held at the police station and were being looked after by police officers, often led to complaints by lawyers, because they could not see their clients, who often also were not being taken care of properly.

"The police officers who managed these cells are not organised and set up to look after a House of Detention," Duncan said. "That is why I put management of these cells in the hands of the persons who are supposed to know how to handle the daily operations in this type of detention centre."

Three types of detainees will be held at the Houses of Detention: illegal immigrants, crime suspects awaiting trial and convicts, who may be divided into persons sentenced for minor crimes and long-term hardened criminals.

Minister Duncan said that after completion of the prison renovation it was the intention to separate these two types of criminals, with Pointe Blanche being the location where long-term criminals are to be housed.

"That is why 'The Box' [in Cay Hill, ed.] is so important, because that will become a big House of Detention, with a 15-bed youth detention facility," Minister Duncan stated, adding that in Country St. Maarten it was against the Constitution to detain young delinquents together with adults.

However, as long as The Box is not available, young criminals "will be juggled around" between Simpson Bay and the police station in Philipsburg to keep them apart from their adult counterparts, the Minister said.

Duncan thanked USONA for providing additional funding to make the prison renovations possible.

Dekker said USONA was pleased to assist in the "really needed" project to take good care of prisoners in St. Maarten, and thanked the Dutch Representation in St. Maarten VHP for making the organisation's contribution possible.