St. Maarten Minister Duncan rejects request to disband Inmates Association

POSTED: 07/6/11 1:34 PM

Attorney: “Ricardo refuses to give information”

St. Maarten – Justice Minister Roland Duncan turned down a request by prison director Rudsel Ricardo to disband the Pointe Blanche Inmates Association and to let him select four “positive leaders” to represent the inmates. “I am not going to do that,” Minister Duncan told this newspaper yesterday. “This is a democracy and the Inmates Association’s board members do not have to agree with me.”

Ricardo asked Duncan to temporarily dissolve the prison’s Inmates Association in a letter dated June 23. A copy of the letter reached the Inmates Association and its attorney mr. Shaira Bommel on Monday, eleven days later. Ricardo’s action follows a troublesome period at the prison whereby inmates went on strike for quite some time to force the Justice Ministry and the prison management to honor a long list of demands – from better toilets to free electricity for watching TV.

While the strike has ended, Ricardo wants the Minister to disband the association temporarily and authorize him to appoint four “positive inmates” to represent all prisoners.

“The board of the Inmates Association is elected by the inmates themselves. This means that positive and negative leaders can be chosen,” Ricardo wrote to the Minister. “With negative leaders the point of security in the facility comes up (forcing inmates to do certain things).”

Ricardo expressed his concerns about the start of the upcoming renovation. “At this moment we are on the eve of a large renovation whereby inmates must be detained elsewhere, often against their will. Inmates also have to cooperate to make the renovation go as smoothly as possible. With negative leaders in the Inmates Association this can seriously get out of control, with all its consequences.”

In order to avoid problems during the renovation, Ricardo wrote, “I kindly ask the temporarily disband the Inmates Association Pointe Blanche until after the prison’s renovation. I will make sure that four positive inmates are assigned from all sections to represent all prisoners.”

mr. Shaira Bommel, the attorney for the Inmates Association was livid about Ricardo’s request and about his attitude in general towards her. “When I asked him for information he said that he under instructions of the Justice Minister to absolutely reveal nothing to the outside world, so the prisoners don’t know anything about what is going to happen. There should at least be a policy, but Ricardo refuses to give information.”

The Justice Ministry wants to move about thirty prisoners for the renovation’s duration to the immigration detention center in Simpson Bay. The top floor of this new facility is reserved for this purpose. The question is whether the facility meets the minimum requirements for a House of Detention. “You cannot put four prisoners in a cell of three by three meters,” Bommel said. “Besides, the inmates that have been sentenced are entitled to recreation, visits and airing. They have a bit more freedom of movement than inmates that haven’t been sentenced yet.”

The top floor of the immigration detention center will be used for the temporally housing of inmates that have to move to enable the renovation. This newspaper learned yesterday that the accommodation for these inmates consists of a large dormitory with 19 beds that are placed around the room against the wall. There are two large cells as well, but they were originally reserved for female immigration detainees who have a child.

The attorney said that she has seen staff of Checkmate Security at work in the prison and that the Justice Ministry is negotiating contracts with bus drivers. The inmates will most likely have to be transported on a daily basis from Simpson Bay to the Pointe Blanche prison to take part in the facility’s day program.

In February, the Court in First Instance ruled on a lawsuit the Inmates Association initiated last year against the Netherlands Antilles demanding a variety of improvements – from equal treatment with prisoners in Curacao and free electricity for watching TV, to a comprehensive plan to improve conditions in Pointe Blanche, decent toilets and rehabilitation facilities. Judge mr. M. Keppels dismissed all demands.

In March the Inmates Association submitted a list of seventeen complaints to the Justice Ministry. Justice cabinet chief Irene Simmons visited the Inmates Association, but a subsequent letter from Minister Duncan’s legal advisor Ann Gumbs took away any illusion that any of these demands would be met. To add insult to injury, Gumbs added a quote from the book Prisoners and Human Rights to her letter: “He, who loses his freedom, loses immediately all other rights that is inseparable with them.”

To ease the tension, Chief Prosecutor mr. Hans Mos visited the Inmates Association on May 6, a day after Gumbs wrote this letter. In a letter to Justice Minister Duncan, Mos described his meeting and explained the brunt of the inmates’ complaints. Mos wrote that many of the complaints “make sense.”

Mos urged the Minister to make sure that the prison-renovation starts this summer. There is place for the thirty prisoners that need to be moved in Simpson Bay and in the new police cells, Mos stated. “When the old police cells are renovated and meet the CPT-standards the new police cells offer sufficient alternatives until there is a structural solution for detention (for example in the Box [Samir Andrawos’ building in Cay Hill – ed.]).”

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