Row over relocation convicted inmates to Simpson Bay: Prisoners knock off work and file lawsuit

POSTED: 05/28/12 2:35 PM

POINTE BLANCHE, St. Maarten – Inmates at the Pointe Blanche prison went on strike yesterday morning, prison Director Rudsel Ricardo stated in a press release issued yesterday. Prisoners assigned to kitchen duty did not show up for work and the prison cancelled all family visits for safety reasons, Ricardso stated. Last year, inmates also went on strike in May.
The director stated that he received a letter from the Inmates Association on Saturday evening around seven o’clock. “In it they informed me that the general inmate population requested a peaceful demonstration as a result of the constant abuse, violations and discrimination that they are subjected to from the prison authorities.”
But the attorney for the Inmates Association, mr. Shaira Bommel, had a different explanation. “On Thursday Ricardo called six inmates forward because he said they had to accept some paperwork. But when they stepped forward they were thrown in a minivan and transported to Simpson Bay and to the police station in Philipsburg.”
The six inmates all have a conviction to their name, Bommel said. They have spent already quite some years behind bars and they still have a while to go. “It is unlawful to detain convicted inmates in Simpson Bay or at the police station, because those cells are designed as House of Detention. Those facilities are only for preventive custody (for suspects awaiting trial – ed.), not for inmates who have been convicted.”
mr. Bommel said that the Inmates Association informed the prison management that inmates would knock off work if their six fellow-inmates were not returned to the prison.
“Ricardo has panicked,” mr. Bommel said, “because now he has to hire people from the outside to do the work.”
The attorney also contested the prison director’s authority to cancel yesterday’s famiy visits. “He has the authority to do that but then there must be good reasons for it. That the inmates have knocked off work is not a good enough reason.”
mr. Bommel filed summary proceedings at the Court in First Instance to force the prison director’s hand. “Or these prisoners are released, or they are returned to Pointe Blanche,” she said about her petition to the court. The court will probably deal with the lawsuits in the course of this week.
Ricardo said in his press statement that he decided to keep all inmates in their cell, “to preserve the safety of inmates who did go to work.”
The director quoted from the Inmates Association’s letter that the main reason for the ‘peaceful demonstration (quotation marks from Ricardo’s press release – ed.) is “the renovation (inhumane and unhygienic conditions), abuse of power, whereby according to the Association Inmates were threatened to go back to work during the last strike, discrimination, whereby one inmate received benefits and the other did not, and additional abuse, whereby they do not agree with the prices they pay to buy food stuff in the canteen at the prison.”
Ricardo stated that the complaints, “Basically come down to the same reasons for which the inmates went on strike in May 2011. That strike lasted approximately one month.”
A family member of a prison inmate sent a report from an anonymous email-address to this newspaper, saying in a reaction to the fact that the prison had no running water last week that the water tank at the facility has been leaking for a long time. “Thousands of gallons of water run from this tank continuously. I cannot recall one day that I haven’t seen all this water getting spoiled. Prison blames Gebe and Gebe blames prison… Honestly I don’t care who is to blame. All this wasted money could have been spent on renovations.”
The unidentified writer furthermore complains about human rights violations on a large and organized scale, without going into specifics. “The civilization of one’s country is shown by the detention facilities of that country. A civilized country treats their detainees with dignity and respect. A third world country treats their detainees like animals. I dare to say that Sint Maarten is a third world country. Politicians allow the situation in Pointe Blanche to continue and worsen for many years now, despite several court orders, despite financial aid from Holland (still don’t know where that money went), despite promises that the renovation would finally start. Up to now nothing has been done.”
The writer says that the inmates have the right to go on strike and “to demand humane detention” and that the prison management has no right to keep inmates on lock down 24/7 and denying them visits. “I have seen children crying because they were told they could not see their father on Sunday. Heartbreaking.”

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