Criminal suspects free due to crisis in prison system

POSTED: 04/24/12 12:25 PM

“The only effective sanction is immediate release,” judge rules

Criminal suspects free due to crisis in prison system

GREAT BAY – The crisis in St. Maarten’s prison system came further under pressure when the Judge of Instruction ordered the immediate release of three inmates last week. Anthony F., Leon G. and Fabien J.-F. were detained at the immigration detention center in Simpson Bay. A fourth inmate, Felix D.-L. saw his request for immediate release fizzle, because the Court in First Instance ordered his detainment last Wednesday.

The three released inmates were no longer taken on a daily transport from Simpson Bay to the Pointe Blanche prison to take part in the day program after March 26. This contravenes a decree from Justice Minister Roland Duncan dated December 21 of last year that states: “The inmates will be transported to the facility in Pointe Blanche during the week to take part in the day program and to receive privileged visits.

Prosecutor Mr. Gonda van der Wulp told the Judge of Instruction that the inmates in Simpson Bay have their own day program since April 1 and that it is therefore no longer necessary to transport them to Pointe Blanche.

Judge of Instruction Mr. Koen Luijks ruled in a related case on March 16 that when a suspect who is not transported within two times 24 hours after a decision to a House of Detention, “the preventive custody is canceled and immediate release is ordered.”

In this case the judge ruled that when a suspect has not been transported timely to the House of Detention in Pointe Blanche to follow the day program, “this situation is similar to that of a suspect who has not been transported to a House of detention at all.”

“When a defendant is not transported on weekdays to the House of detention in Pointe Blanche, it cannot be said that the suspect is detained in a House of detention, even though such a suspect is held in one of the police cells that have been designated as House of detention.”

The rulings in the recent cases put Justice Minister Duncan in a bind, especially because the Judge of Instruction ruled that “if regulations are violated that relate to the way of detention of suspects in preventive custody, there is only one effective sanction possible: immediate release.”

The Judge of Instruction ruled that, if he would not order the immediate release in summary proceedings, “the risk exists that director of the House of detention will not observe the ministerial regulation in the future either.”

In October of last year, Judge Luijks also ruled favorably on a request by a detainee, Maychel D., for immediate release. This suspect spent three days in the old police cells.

The judge considered that the CPT, the European Committee for the prevention of torture and inhumane or humiliating treatment, declared the old police cells unfit for detention purposes.

“The suspect was temporarily placed in the old cell block because the new cells were apparently overpopulated,” Judge Luijks wrote in the ruling.

Suspects in preventive custody whose detention is prolonged remain at the police station for some time, because Pointe Blanche has insufficient space for suspects in preventive custody.

Suspects remain after the first ten days of detention an additional 16 days in a police cell. “The public prosecutor is forced to do this due to the prolonged cell capacity shortage in Pointe Blanche, but the Judge of instruction fails to recognize why the suspect’s interests are subordinate to this.”

Mr. Luijks ruled that a sentence reduction – as suggested by the public prosecutor as compensation – is insufficient. Placing suspects in the future in the old cells has to be prevented at all cost, the Judge ruled. “This can only be guaranteed by ordering the immediate release of suspects who are ever so briefly detained in the old cells.” An immediate expansion of cell capacity in a House of Detention for suspects in preventive custody is also imminent, the judge ruled.

Mr. Luijks added that keeping suspects for 26 days in a police cells is not sustainable.: “The detention in the police cell will have to be brought down to the legal maximum term of ten days. “The prolonged detention must be spent in a House of Detention and if this does not happen, suspects will have to be released.”

The judge remarked furthermore in his ruling that he had already indicated in early 2011 that the 26-day term for detention in a police cell could only be a temporary situation. The judge pointed out in his rulings that expanding the call capacity at the house of Detention is of vital importance. “Up to now the government has not achieved a tangible result. The rights and the interests of suspects in preventive custody are not allowed to be sacrificed to this result.”

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