Minister Spies: Insufficient improvements at Dutch Caribbean prisons


THE HAGUE--Authorities in Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten have given insufficient follow-up to the recommendations to improve the penitentiary facilities on the islands. Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations Liesbeth Spies is concerned.

Spies stated this in a letter that she sent to the Second Chamber on Wednesday in relation to the fourth progress reports by Dutch Justice experts Juan de Lange and Professor Paul Vegter about the police and prison cells in Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten. The progress reports serve to check whether there is follow-up on the recommendations of the Council of Europe anti-torture CPT Committee.

The three reports, one per island, paint a "varying picture" of the penitentiary facilities on the three islands, stated Spies in her letter. "There are some points of improvement, such as the new police cells in St. Maarten, better medical care at Aruba's KIA prison and improved circumstances at the detention centre for foreigners in Curaçao."

But there are also issues that have not been improved, according to the Minister. She mentioned the unhygienic situation and the understaffing at the Pointe Blanche prison in St. Maarten; the situation at the Dakota addiction centre in Aruba; and the police cell complex at Curaçao's Rio Canario. "I find this a worrisome development."

The three Dutch Caribbean countries experience more or less the same issues: shortage of personnel, activities for inmates and the treatment and differentiation of detainees. "Cooperation between the countries to, for example, train personnel and to learn from each others' experiences is of paramount importance. I will try to stimulate this cooperation," stated Spies.

While in St. Maarten last month, the Minister expressed her concerns about the progress of the execution of the plans of approach for both the Pointe Blanche prison and the Police Force. "The renovation of the prison still has not started. This has effect on the available capacity and the safety situation at the institution," she stated.

In Curaçao there appears to be a stagnation of the improvements at the prison and the improvement trajectory is not expected to be concluded in time, stated the Minister. The cooperation agreement with the management team of the Dutch Judicial Facilities DJI will conclude in July 2012.

Curaçao's Minister of Justice Elmer Wilsoe has asked to prolong the cooperation with DJI. "We are currently looking into whether and how we can accommodate this request. The method of financing this cooperation will be of importance," stated Spies, adding that if parties agreed, a new contract would be signed within a month.

In Aruba too there seems to be stagnation in the progress of implementing improvements at the penitentiary facilities. "It is important that Aruba executes the plans that are there." The Netherlands supports Aruba with training for prison personnel.

"A lot of efforts and investments have been made to improve the penitentiary facilities in the Dutch Caribbean. The situation has improved since the [2007] visit of the CPT, but we should not allow slackened attention for this issue and a consequent drawback of the situation," she stated. According to the Minister, chances are great that the CPT will report on the Dutch Caribbean this year.

Spies said she would bring up the recommendation of Dutch experts Vegter and De Lange to have the Council for the Maintenance of Law and Order (Raad voor de Rechtshandhaving) take over their motivational and monitoring function in her next meeting with the Governors of Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten. If necessary, she will table the matter for the agenda of the Kingdom Council of Ministers.

"Point of departure is that elaborate, broad reports on the prison facilities of all countries remain available to enable to continuous monitoring of the progress of the recommendations by the CPT. We will also have to look how to report on Aruba, since the Law on the Council for the Maintenance of Law and Order doesn't apply to them," stated Spies.