Dear Inmates Association,
I hereby write to you in my capacity as Director of the Point Blanche Prison and House of Detention in response to your Letter to the Editor in The Daily Herald newspaper of January 5th, 2023.
It cannot be denied that the attention that Point Blanche Prison has received from the Ministry of Justice over the last three years has been far greater than in any period prior to that. There are independent reports available that attest to this, as such, I believe that among your fellow inmate population, you will find many persons who agree. There has been and continues to be steady progress at the prison. However, if you are of the opinion that the pace of the developments is not moving fast enough, that is a discussion that I am more than willing to have with the association as I am able to provide insights that the inmates nor the association may not be aware of.
For security reasons, the management and staff of the prison are not always at liberty to disclose information on the developments surrounding the facility. As a result of this, inmates can easily arrive at the wrong conclusion as is the case with many of the assumptions made in the letter published. For instance, the general statement made, “There are many areas in our local “point blanche” prison in Sint Maarten that lack the attention it needs,” is a view that I do not share as it does not align with the developments taking place on the ground.
As Prison Director, I am responsible for the entire prison, as such, every aspect of the prison has my full attention and by extension that of the Ministry of Justice. Any claims to the contrary are false and absolutely incorrect.
In order to provide clarity on the current situation of the prison to the association, I will address the points that have been raised in your letter as some of these were either deliberate misrepresentations of the situation, false, or based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the facts. Moving forward, I will not continue this dialogue in the public sphere as these matters should be handled internally.
It was indicated in the letter that medical staff is not on call to assist during “off-the-clock” emergencies. That statement is incorrect. The prison’s medical staff is on call 24/7 and responds to emergencies in the promptest manner. In addition, all prescriptions are prescribed by a prison general practitioner with prescription authority.
I will not discuss an individual’s medical situation as that is confidential information. The well-being of all inmates including the individual inmate mentioned in the letter, is of great importance to the management and staff, and it is our duty to attend to all inmates with medical inquiries.
One of the focal points of the improvements in the prison in 2022 was the development and enhancing of the overall day-time program for the inmates and providing more rehabilitation programs. This includes but is not limited to reintroducing educational and sport programs as well as expanding the labor possibilities for the inmates.
- Firstly, the GED program has been reintroduced and made available to all I take this opportunity to commend the 11 inmates who have taken advantage of the education program facilitated by CLIMB foundation and congratulate the 4 inmates who were successful in attaining their official GED diploma. The 6-month Prison Education Program (PEP) pilot was implemented to assess the new and improved computer-based learning method. The inmate can log in to their personal account, and with the guidance of the GED teacher, the inmates can work on GED subjects such as Math, Language, Social Studies and Science. In December 2022, an end-of-term ceremony was held for the inmates of which two inmates received an official GED diploma, after which two additional inmates, sat their GED exams in January 2023, and were successful in attaining their GED diplomas to be received soon. This is a great milestone that should not go unmentioned. Currently, the educational services are being tendered for 2023-2025, and the prison strives to continue the educational courses in February 2023. As such, I encourage those who are part of the program to continue and other inmates to join.
- The Family Fun Days have been reintroduced and take place every 3 months. The purpose of this day is to maintain close relationships with inmates’ relatives and loved ones. Inmates who have shown positive behavior over the months are eligible to partake in this event as a privilege earned. This has also been well received by the inmates.
- A complete renovation and refurbishment of the gym took place in 2022 after the request to do so for many years went unanswered. With the upgrade of the gym, much more focus has been put into sporting activities in general for the inmates.
- The sewing room is also operational and can provide a group of 12 to 15 inmates with structural sewing lessons.
- Labor opportunities have also been increased. Inmates now have the possibility to work in the kitchen, the library, or on the cleaning or maintenance team. There are many projects that the inmate maintenance team has been able to work on in 2022. The prison’s intention is to increase the number of inmates that can participate in such activities.
- Management of the prison is also working on the tendering process to rebuild the prison workshop where additional skills were taught to inmates. The tender documents for this have been completed and will be processed for review and approval to begin the tendering process.
- In the last quarter of 2022, in collaboration with the Probation Services (SJIB), an anger management course was given to a group of inmates. This course was successfully completed by all inmates who participated. In 2023, it is the prison’s intention to collaborate more intensely with the probation office to offer such courses that will positively contribute to the inmates’ reintegration.
- The prison will also be exploring the possibilities of restorative justice. This project is still in the early stages, however, it is worth mentioning, as restorative justice between offenders and victims and/or relatives of victims can have a great impact on reducing reoffending rates.
Thus, there are initiatives in the prison that are focused on rehabilitation and there are others underway. However, in order for any of these initiatives to be successful it is important to have a positive attitude toward what is currently being offered and actively participate.
Verlof and Labor (time off)
The procedure to request a ‘leave of absence’ in order for an inmate to attend a funeral or visit a medical specialist is done according to an established procedure. Every inmate has the opportunity to submit a formal request for a ‘leave of absence’ to the prison director. Once a request has been submitted formally, an assessment is done about the possible safety risks involved in granting the ‘leave of absence’. This regards not only potential safety risks for the community and the prison guards, but also for the inmate him- or herself. Based on the assessment, a formal decision is made by the Ministry of Justice.
The granting of conditional release (voorwaardelijke invrijheidsstelling – VI) and early conditional release are regulated in Articles 1:30 – 1:40 of the Criminal Code. In general, an inmate can be eligible for VI after two-thirds of the detention sentence. However, a verdict must be irrevocable. Early VI can be granted in a situation whereby urgent need of cell capacity is needed. Electronic Monitoring (wearing an ankle bracelet) can be imposed as a special condition of VI. An inmate does however not automatically have a right to be released on early VI with an ankle bracelet. The behavior of an inmate during detention is an important factor in the decision-making about VI. In 2015, the new Criminal Code came into effect. The provision of the new Criminal Code removed the need for the Ministerial Regulation Electronic Monitoring. This law in which the ‘early release on ankle bracelet with 18 months detention left’ was regulated, was revoked in October 2015.
Communication with family/friends
All inmates have a right to communicate with family members and/or their loved ones. For this reason, every inmate has scheduled days and times that they can make phone calls. The officer records all names of the inmates who wish to make phone calls daily. Inmates who register for phone calls are never restricted from making these calls unless for safety reasons. There may also be occasional limitations due to technical issues that the prison is presented with by using a land-based telephone system.
Due to the difficulties encountered by using a land-based telephone system, the prison has decided to move over to a VOIP inmate telephone system that does not require the old land-based connection system. In recent weeks, a suitable inmate telephone system has been selected and the prison has received the first sample. The sample will be tested by the prison management and the telecommunication provider in the coming days. It is the intention to have the new inmate telephone system up and running within the first quarter of 2023.
Food and menu
The food provided by the prison’s kitchen is prepared by a certified chef who is skilled in producing nutritious meals based on a well-balanced diet. All dietary constraints of each inmate are considered such as allergies, intolerances, kosher, diabetes and more. In addition, on occasions, as you may know, requests are made to the prison director for the purchasing of food from establishments outside of the prison to be delivered to prisoners. This however is contingent on good behavior and is a privilege earned.
The Centraal College voor de Reclassering (also known as Parole Board or CCR) currently consists of four independent members with legal and social backgrounds. The CCR advises the Minister of Justice about the issuing of (early) VI, denial or suspension of VI and the revoking of VI. The Board has an important advisory role. The Minister of Justice, however, has the discretion to deviate from the advice in certain exceptional situations. The Public Prosecutor is not a member of the Parole Board as the letter stated.
I have taken note of your concern for the well-being of our prison guards and would hope that this is reflected in your interactions with them. Over the course of years, the prison has dealt with many challenges in regard to structural staff shortage, which in turn leads to a higher workload resulting in an increase in the number of sick reports and absenteeism. A positive development in the area of personnel is the prison officer’s training program that started in September 2022, in collaboration with the Dutch Custodial Agency in the Netherlands (DJI).
All prison guards have been offered the opportunity to join the training that covers different areas: integrity, self-defense, security, aggression regulation, prison law and more. This is a great step that the prison is immensely proud of as it has been more than a decade since the prison officers have gotten the opportunity to enhance their skills and develop their knowledge in their field of profession. It is of great importance that prison officers, current and new, are up to date with their knowledge and skills so that they can handle every situation with utmost skill and precision.
Since your Letter to the Editor was sent, a virtual meeting between the Inmates Association and the Honorable Minister of Justice took place on January 9th, in which all your concerns were discussed. Additionally, in response to your communication, through this letter, I have sought to clarify and correct where needed the points that you have raised. Your calls have not gone unheard.
We have been in dialogue periodically prior to your letter to the media, and I believe we should continue to do so. However, in doing so, it is important that we remain respectful and refrain from making statements that can be misconstrued as a thinly veiled threat. This is counterproductive to our common goal to see general conditions in the prison improve.
As your letter was shared in the media, a copy of this letter will also be shared through the media.
Point Blanche Prison & House of Detention