Justice ministry wants to rent prison cell capacity abroad

POSTED: 03/7/11 12:06 PM

St. Maarten – Justice Minister Roland Duncan considers renting prison cell capacity abroad and examining early release for certain inmates to ease the pressure on the penitentiary system in St. Maarten. Last week, the prosecutor’s office had to release two suspects in a human smuggling case as well as an armed robbery suspect after court orders to move the detainees from their police cells to the Pointe Blanche prison. Today, two more detainees have to be moved to Pointe Blanche but the prison is filled to capacity and there is no place to put them. If no solution is found today, these suspects will also have to be released.

“We have been faced with this situation since 10-10-10,” Duncan told this newspaper yesterday. “The thing is, you don’t build prison cells overnight, yet the problem is acute.”

Duncan said that he is working on several projects. “I am considering an early release program, but we have to give that plan careful consideration, because not everybody will qualify for it,” he said.”

Since the new cells at the police station have been brought into use Friday a week ago, the old cells have become available for renovation. Chief commissioner Peter de Witte indicated last week that there are plans to upgrade these cells to prison cells, but that funding must be found to execute these plans.

“By hook and by crook, I will find the funding for it,” Minister Duncan said.

The Minister also wants to convert the top floor of the immigration detention center in Simpson Bay into a prison facility.

The next option is to rent prison cells elsewhere. “We are looking to rent prison cell capacity in another country,” Duncan told this newspaper. “We have several options. Holland is obviously the most expensive, but we are talking with Curacao and we are also looking at other countries in the region.”

St. Maarten has an agreement with Curacao and the Netherlands that regulates the conditions under which they make prison cell capacity available to each other. The agreement excludes the possibility to detain inmates from the Netherlands in facilities on the islands in the Caribbean. As far as the Netherlands is concerned, it only applies to suspects or inmates from Bonaire, Statia and Saba, but it leaves open the possibility to detain inmates from for instance St. Maarten in the Netherlands.

Detaining inmates in Curacao or the Netherlands is a temporary measure, according to the agreement. The cell capacity becomes available when, due to special circumstances or large-scale police operations, the capacity on the island is temporary insufficient.

Protecting national security or public order are also mentioned as reasons that validate housing detainees elsewhere.

The prison cells are not free: the country that asks for external prison cells, has to pay all costs that are related to it.

The office of the public prosecutor is authorized to request detention capacity in Curacao or the Netherlands. The Ministers of Justice in these countries are only allowed to refuse the request if there is no capacity available, for security reasons or if there is capacity available closer to St. Maarten.

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