Sent in letter: Early release out of political hands

POSTED: 09/8/11 11:58 AM

Dear Editor,
Please allow me to make notice of several “malpractices” that are being applied to our inmates by the ministry of justice.
In response to the article of Monday August 29th, 2011 in the other daily newspaper concerning the early release for detainees, I would like to state the following. I specifically urge the parliament of St. Maarten and the general public to “comprehend” how the present early release procedure is mentally and negatively affecting the detainees as well as our society.
After a detainee is irrevocably sentenced, by law a detainee supposes to receive his/her “Extract Vonnis” (an official document containing all information of the case including the duration of the prison sentence and the release date) within a reasonable timeframe. Upon receiving that document, the detainee counts the days to come out at most times a date is given by the prison social workers. For months or even years the family of the detainee prepares for that date of release, the whole mindset is fixed on that day and plans are made. Illegitimately, the untimely and unjust decisions by the Ministry of Justice department need to be morally and lawfully regulated, which the Ombudsman of St. Maarten and Mrs. I Simmons, a representative head of the justice ministry cabinet have already been giving notice of, still this negligence continues. Sometimes the day is nearby, sometimes the day has already past, when suddenly the detainee receives a paper from the Minister of Justice, that he can unpack his belongings again because the countdown is not over yet. The detainee has to do weeks, months or even years more than he was initially told, without even being re-evaluated by the parole board (who by the way basically is nonfunctional and hardly ever visits the prison, but makes crucial decisions based on second hand information).

You don’t have to be a psychologist or psychiatrist to understand, that this ill-timed and unreasonable decisions breaks the detainee’s mindset. He that was ready to go back to society in a calm and civilized way, and had his hopes up for a better future, lost all of that positivity. The system now unconsciously turned him into a very angry man at that very same moment. Freedom is the most precious thing in life, and taking that away unexpectedly has a major impact on any human. Reasons to cause this “mental snap” are at most of the times “petty”. A detainee who is found to be in possession of a phone, a little bit of contraband or even a fight years ago (which of course is not allowed in prison) would be punished by being placed in a solitary confinement for 2 weeks when that occurs, which means that the detainee(s) would be punished for the offense committed. Long story short, the system now are punishing inmates “twice” or sometimes “three times” for the same offense by additionally and intentionally using one offense as denials for three different purposes. A phone, a fight, or a crumb of contraband does not equal months or even years in prison.
The only justified reason to take away early release is when a detainee is a threat to society. Only if there are reasonable doubts that the detainee will be a danger to society, then and only then early release can be, or better said “MUST” be taken away.

As a concerned family of an inmate, and in support to MP Mr. J Leonard’s statement, I strongly advise parliament especially now since they are busy with legislating the penal code to visit the prison in particular the Inmate Association to better “understand and see from that side of the fence” the injustices of the current prison system.

Editor’s note:
As an exception, we publish this letter without the author’s name, since he is currently in the prison system.

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