Duncan: “No intention to create Pointe Blanche Resort and Spa”

POSTED: 07/6/12 12:05 PM

St. Maarten – “I have no intention to create the Pointe Blanche Resort and Spa,” Justice Minister Roland Duncan said yesterday afternoon in a central committee meeting that dealt with the situation at St. Maarten penitentiary facility.
“It’s a correctional institution.”
That remark set the tone for the briefing the minister gave members of the central committee. The meeting was requested by the United People’s (Up) Party faction. Faction members Jules James, Ruth Douglas, Johan Leonard and Sylvia Olivacce-Meyers peppered Duncan with questions. At the suggestion of National Alliance MP Lloyd Richardson, some of these questions will be answered behind closed door, based on security considerations.
These questions pertain to remarks made by Jules James about corruption among prison guards. “Due to the staff shortage prison officers do not feel safe at work. Which steps will the minister take to repair that? In certain instances guards are not even able to trust their own colleagues. There is rampant corruption at the prison,” James said.
“There are cell phones, drugs and pornographic magazines in the cells.”
The MP said that there was even a package of drugs found in the kitchen on one occasion, with the name of an inmate on it. He also noted that the closed circuit TV cameras and the metal detectors in the prison are not working properly.
James also referred to the conditions the inmates are complaining about, like the lack of hygiene, the water supply, and the lack of medical care.
“Sometimes they feel worse than an abandoned animal,” he said.
Members of the UP recently visited the prison and spoke with inmates and prison staff.
Minister Duncan said that when he took office he found the plans for the prison’s renovation that date back to the beginning of the century.
“But I found no money to execute the plan,” he said.
That situation has changed, because there is now 4.4 million guilders available to begin with the renovation project that requires in total 8 million guilders and 18 months to complete.
But the money the minister “found” has been taken from other projects within his ministry. “Politics is the art of making choices and money does not grow on trees. It is very easy to say that we have to do this and that we have to do that,” Duncan said.
Duncan said that his ministry had “lost” 9 million guilders in the 2012 budget negotiations.
“We were deprived, but I am extremely proud of the slow progress we made since 2010.”
In the execution of his plans, Duncan said that he had met resistance every step of the way. To start the renovation, 30 inmates have to move to Simpson Bay each time a block is under renovation.
“But the inmates asked for a sentence reduction to accommodate this. Their solution is: don’t move us, let us go.
The minister also criticized the court for getting in his way with rulings that do not make sense to him.
“The court went along beating our brains in,” he said.
Duncan mentioned as an example the court ruling that set a suspect that allegedly committed 16 armed robberies free because he had not enjoyed a day program for four days during his detention in Simpson Bay.
Duncan dismissed criticism of the quality of the prison food.
“They serve food there for lunch that I even don’t have at my house,” he said.
There are twelve people working in the kitchen at Pointe Blanche. Three of them are employees, the other nine are inmates. But after the strike in May whereby the inmates refused to work, the ministry hired five people to work in the kitchen.
“The number of inmates working in the kitchen has been drastically reduced. If I can have my way there will be no more inmates working there, so that I am able to meet my responsibilities.”
Duncan said that his ministry has appealed the verdict that amongst others acknowledged the inmates’ right to go on strike.
“I don’t know any country in the world where the freedoms of inmates are not restricted,” he said.
“The prison is entitled to move inmates around.”
Duncan said that currently there are 134 inmates in Pointe Blanche, 33 in Simpson Bay and 12 in the police station in Philipsburg. By the end of this month there will be one inmate left in a cell in Curacao. On the other hand, Pointe Blanche is home to three inmates from Curacao; one of them is serving a life sentence.
The minister also said that he is currently negotiating the purchase of the Box in Cay Hill. The building will be turned into a medium security prison with 200 beds. There will be 10 to 15 beds for a youth detention facility. The Box will also house the kitchen that will be moved from Pointe Blanche as well as the administration offices.
“Pointe Blanche will then be turned into a real prison. Currently it is a mix of prison and House of Detention.”
While there is currently no money to execute the Box-plans, the project will in the future offer employment to fifty people.
Minister Duncan said that there is an old plan to expand Pointe Blanche but that that would have cost 60 million guilders.
“The cost for the box will be about half of that.”
Duncan said that the attitude of the Inmates Association is not helpful for the re-socialization of inmates.
“Not much is going to happen if inmates refuse to participate. They are hampering their own re-socialization.”
Lastly, the minister noted that there are gangs active within the prison system and that much of the damage to the facilities has been caused by inmates

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