Today’s Opinion: Escape from prison

POSTED: 03/21/11 6:08 PM

Some theories hold that just the idea that it is possible at all to escape from a prison somehow puts the minds of most inmates at ease. If that is so, the inmates at the Pointe Blanche prison must be happy as nails, now that Omar N., a 20-year-old from Dutch Quarter managed to jump the fence, so to speak.

The escape that took place in the night from Saturday to Sunday is a rare event. The last time somebody managed to get out of Pointe Blanche without permission was in 2007, during the Carnival Grand Parade.

This time, the escape has raised eyebrows, not only at the prison, but probably also at the police force, and at the Justice Ministry – and rightly so.

On Friday, Omar N. appeared in the Court in First Instance, after he had refused to waive his right to be present at a court hearing on Wednesday. Never mind that this appearance served only to tell him that his trial would be postponed until May 11.

On Friday, Omar got his court hearing and the opportunity to show how much disdain he has for the system. His belligerent attitude in court did not make much of an impression on our residing Judge, so Omar’s frustration levels must have gone through the roof by the time she was done with him.

So what happened between Friday afternoon, when Omar was in court, and Saturday night when he sawed his way to freedom? And what happened at Pointe B lance while he was sawing his way to freedom?

That’s what prison director Rudsel Ricardo wants to know as well. Somebody slipped Omar a saw, or he somehow got hold of it in the prison. That is already a serious breach of security, and though Ricardo is ultimately responsible for such things, he is obviously not the one to hand these tools to his prisoners.

The second aspect of this escape is even more disturbing: nobody heard anything, and nobody saw anything.
That is probably what inspired Ricardo to call in the detective department. There are three lookout points at the prison, and these posts are manned around the clock.

Did the guards on duty look the other way? Where they busy doing other things – sleeping being the most innocent activity among them?

The investigation will without any doubt bring to light what went wrong inside the prison, and because there is apparently a serious possibility that someone on the inside helped Omar to escape, this will lead to the end of one or more careers and to other court cases.

For Omar N. himself, the prospects are pretty bleak. He will not be able to hide out forever in Dutch Quarter, nor will he be able to remain invisible on the French side. Sooner or later he will be caught, and then he will also have to pay for this adventure.

In the Netherlands escaping from prison is not punishable, but in St. Maarten it carries a maximum penalty of ten years. The two men who escaped in 2007 during Carnival were both convicted robbers. The prosecution demanded 18 months extra imprisonment against them and the court settled for one year.

That seems to be the least of Omar N.’s worries, because he was involved in a gang of which the first four members are facing prison sentences between 38 months and ten years – and the accusations against them were not the most serious ones.

The only good thing that might come from this escape is that the prison will review its procedures, and take a good look at the personnel that was on duty during the escape. For the next guy, it will become that much more difficult to escape.

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