Duncan happy that reality of being alone is taking hold

POSTED: 03/17/11 2:28 PM

Attorney General investigating lease possibilities

St. Maarten – Justice Minister Roland Duncan says he’s not surprised that members of the Dutch Second Chamber have stated there will be no immediate help for St. Maarten when it comes to cell capacity at the Pointe Blanche Prison. He’s also “happy there’s a realization that St. Maarten has to fend for itself and develop this little country itself and that we all have to pull together.”

“I think some of us were walking around in a haze and dreaming of particularly Dutch assistance,” Duncan said at Wednesday’s Council of Ministers press briefing.

The Minister received a letter two days ago from the Netherlands, in which help is offered to identify people to work here. The Minister has also received a letter from Curacao’s Justice Minister Elmer Wilsoe that they have no space in Bon Futuro prison for new detainees from St. Maarten. There are 12 detainees from St. Maarten in Curacao at the moment and none will be coming back soon.

“I am not taking back anybody. We had agreements as part of the constitutional change process that we will mutually assist each other in terms of prison space so what they have for us, they have to keep. I’m not going to take them back. There’s a remote possibility on Bonaire, but I have not heard anything back on that as yet,” Duncan said.

Because of this the Minister has begun seeking alternatives. One country he’s eyeing is the Netherlands and he’s requested the Attorney General research whether St. Maarten can lease prison cells there during an upcoming.

“We’re not asking for favors or assistance. Just like how Belgium rents prison cells from Holland, we want to do the same,” Duncan said.

Duncan has given early notice that this option will be “extremely expensive” starting with the transport costs as detainees cannot travel on commercial flights, so the government will have to use charter flights to move the prisoners. Next to the financial considerations Duncan is not sure government can secure assistance from the Marines and other armed forces to guard the prisoners while the move is taking place.

“I just want the Attorney General to look so people know we’re dealing with it,” the Justice Minister said.

At the moment Point Blanche Prison has prisoners past the number it should be holding and this has been so “for a while and even before Country St. Maarten” but the government of the Netherlands Antilles “failed to do what it needs to do” so now it’s a “Country St. Maarten problem.” Recognizing he must now take the lead Duncan has been considering developing a new turnkey prison complex that will add 315 places to the existing facility.

“Depending on whether we add a youth detention facility to it, the price will run from 60 to 80 million guilders at a lease cost of about 6 to 7 million guilders per year for 30 years to St. Maarten,” Duncan.

The Minister announced further that the government is also negotiating for another facility that can be used as a prison. He did not mention where, so that there will no controversy ahead of the arrangement being finalized.

“I know I’m going to get a quarrel about why in my village and why not the other village. I’ve had that. I’ve gotten some messages from Simpson Bay, but let me put it crude and blunt. We produce the criminals here on the island and we have to take care of them here on the island. We don’t have an Alcatraz island somewhere out there, away from us, so we’ll have to house them somewhere within the community. So some village, some district is going to be burdened maybe or will have the unpleasantness of having a prison facility nearby. That is something we’re going to have to do,” Duncan said.

Early Release

During question and answer Duncan said, “I forgot to mention that we’re also working on an early release policy and we’re carefully dealing with that because electronic surveillance is one of the possibilities, which is a very, very, expensive exercise at this point in time and we can also do the release with parole, but you have to be careful. You’d understand that you have some hardened criminals that may want to come into consideration because they spent a long time there, but on the other hand the crimes are of a nature that you have to be careful. The Public Ministry has prepared a note for me, a policy plan for me and we plan to by the end of this week, take a decision as to how we’re going to do that and that’s how we’re going to deal with balancing the prison capacity out.”

While he’s working out early release the Minister has stressed that he must find a way to get more cells.

“We have to come to a new facility. We have to either expand Pointe Blanche or we find some other facility to give us prison space. Because on one hand the police and the public ministry are bringing people to justice and if we don’t have space then we have to let them go and the court is being very, very, very observant about it. Some of the cells are not adequate, so they do not intend, regardless of the crime to keep people in such circumstances for long periods,” Duncan said.

Prevention

The Minister also pointed that the vast majority of detainees are young people and he’s not sure that “dealing with them” is going to help prevent crime.

“One thing I know for sure though is that if we buy stolen goods for instance from thieves, we’re going to have thieves, because it’s a lucrative, profitable operation to enter into somebody’s house and go with their flat screen, go with their computer and other items. If the same people of this society do not buy, or refuse to buy stolen stuff crime will drop so dramatically, because it would not be that profitable. So we have to look at ourselves in the face and wonder if we are contributing to all of this,” Duncan said.

He added, “It’s easy to say hey police, justice, go out and catch these criminals. Then we lock them up. Then we complain that the facilities are not adequate. They’re inhuman. We have complaints if police pursue crooks and then call it Hollywood, breaks up or peace. But I’m very proud of the police force and the public ministry for the efforts of these last months, since 10-10-10 in trying to bring people to justice.”

The minister believes the nation must ask itself the question, “Are we doing what we’re supposed to do if we don’t refuse to buy stolen goods.”

“That in itself will be more prevention than any course I can think of right now,” Duncan said.

 

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