Court establishes prisoners’ right to go on strike

POSTED: 06/12/12 12:51 PM

Collective punishments declared unlawful

St. Maarten – The Pointe Blanche Inmates Association booked a significant victory in court yesterday. Judge mr. Coen Luiks ruled that the prison has to desist from keeping prisoners locked up in their cell for the whole day, that it has to allow visitors and that the inmates must be provided timely with three meals every day. The court ordered the prison to implement its ruling within two hours after it was pronounced at around two o’clock yesterday afternoon.

The court also prohibited the prison from imposing collective punishments like denying visitors and mail, or limiting visits to the prison cafeteria. The court rejected country St. Maarten’s demand to prohibit inmates from organizing strikes, protests or other actions that could result in unrest within the prison and to undertake actions that could frustrate the relocation of prisoners that are necessary to execute renovation work.

The court acknowledged that the prison director is entitled to suspend prisoners’ rights for a period of three times 24 hours. After that, prolongation is only possible based on a ministerial decree. Since Justice Minister Duncan did not sign such a decree, the measures the prison took against the inmates became unlawful after May 30. The court rejected the country’s argument that this authority had been mandated to the prison director Rudsel Ricardo.

“This authority cannot be delegated to the prison director. The authority to prolong these measures has to be executed by a higher office according to the legislator and not by the office that initially has taken them against the inmates,” the court ruled.

The court concluded that since May 31 inmates were no longer allowed to be locked up 24/7, that the prison was not allowed forbidding them to receive visitors, and that the prison had to issue three meals a day in a timely manner to the inmates.

The court also ruled that collective punishment of inmates because they had gone on strike is not allowed.

“Punishment for whatever reason is only allowed against individuals, based on articles in the national ordinance for the prison system.”

The court did not accept the Inmates Association’s charge that inmates had been subjected to corporal punishment.

The court rejected the country’s demand to prohibit inmates from organizing strikes and other actions.

“Inmates also have basic rights as they are formulated in the State Regulation (Constitution). They have the right to express their opinion, the right of association, and the right to assembly and to demonstration.”

The court did not go into the question whether there is a labor relationship between the prison and its inmates. The country argued during last Friday’s court hearing that inmates are not entitled to go on strike because the work they do does not fall within the terms of a labor relationship.

“The Inmates Association and the inmates are entitled to exercise these basic rights based on the State Regulation. The association is entitled to call on inmates to stop working or to organize a strike,” Judge Luijks ruled.

The judge found further grounds to declare that the inmates association had the right to go on strike in the fact that suspects and convicts have to be detained separately and in the uncertainty about the starting date for the announced renovation work in the prison.

Interestingly, the court also found that subsection of article 4, paragraph 2 of the State Regulation overrules an article in the national prison system ordinance. The State Regulation article prohibits anybody to force others to do forced labor other than community service. The State Regulation supersedes lower legislation, the court noted.

The court ruled that the Inmates Association wanted to expose a wrong situation with its action. It was entitled to do this, the court ruled, “especially now that one could put the transport of convicts from the Pointe Blanche prison to the House of detention in Simpson Bay. Stopping obligatory work is in this case not disproportional.”

Judge Luijks took a harsh position on the measures the prison management took against the board of the Inmates Association.

“The court considers it despicable that especially all board members of the Inmates Association have been removed from the Pointe Blanche prison and taken to the House of Detention in Simpson Bay, apparently with the intention to paralyze the Inmates Association and to break the strike, while the association only organized a lawful action. It has not been established that the board members acted improperly or that they committed any crimes. The reproaches against the board members have not even been brought up at the court hearing by the country.”

The court concluded that the country “not only committed collective punishing of the board members, but that it also intentionally frustrated the association and the inmates in the exercising of their basic rights.”


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