On November 1st, 2021, the Parliament Justice Committee made a visit to the Prison and House of Detention in Point Blanche. The purpose of the visit was for them to become more familiar with the prison facility. The Members of Parliament alongside the Minister of Justice, Ms. Anna E. Richardson, were welcomed by the prison management team and led up to the conference room for the introductory meeting and a presentation. The morning started off with a welcome and introductory speech by Minister Richardson and the prison management team. The presentation then delved into the prison organization structure, the challenges experienced as result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria and the COVID-19 pandemic, and the current positive developments despite these challenges. “The prison’s vision is to provide the best correctional service and safeguarding the community by protecting and reducing re-offending”, said Mr. Steven Carty, prison management team member who was one of the presenters.
Some of the current developments include the installation of the new cell locks, start of a literacy program for the inmates and a cooking program which has been set up for inmates at the institution. This cooking program is being led by 2 qualified chefs where the inmates receive classes twice per week. These classes include getting acquainted with the International Hazard Analysis Critical Control Program (HACCP), cutting skills, hygiene and more. The program has been ongoing for some months now with fruitful results and the enthusiasm shown for these classes is extremely high. The sewing room was recently reopened and is nearly operational, the GED instructor is being recruited, the GYM equipment to spruce up the gym area is in process to be ordered and is on route to Sint Maarten, and the repairs to the woodwork shop area will be retendered within the month of November. With these activities it is the goal to restart rehabilitation programs and positively work on the inmate’s reintegration while they are still incarcerated.
After the presentation, a tour was given to the members of parliament where they got the chance to view every part of the prison facility. This included the general housing area where the inmates reside, the recreational areas, the kitchen, the doctor’s office, the library and more. They also spoke to various prison staff members during the tour such as the sewing instructor, the kitchen chefs, the librarian, and canteen staff member. They explained the operations in the specific areas which provided the members of parliament with a better perspective of the situation. At the time of the tour the sewing room was operational in which 5 inmates were currently working. The inmates were introduced to the members of parliament and shared their stories and their appreciation that the sewing classes had been restarted. One inmate even shared his desires to start his own clothing-line in the near future. Thereafter the members of parliament and Minister Richardson received the opportunity to speak with inmates from the inmate association. Minister Richardson received a list of things that the inmate association drafted, and this list will be used as a checklist to improve living conditions at best for the inmates. It is necessary to ensure all meet security standards and if so, then all efforts will be made to implement or provide.
“The tour today I would deem as a fruitful one. After visiting the Prisons in the Netherlands, I could immediately relate to where improvements are needed in the living spaces of the inmates. Having a moment to discuss the grievances of the inmates with them and the ability to share changes and improvements that are in the pipeline and currently in the implementation phase such as the G.E.D program, brought some comfort. However, I also recognize that there is history of promises and as such, we are at time, where prompt action is needed. As such, we continue to push forward and also incorporate aspects that the inmates have brought forward as essential for a more comfortable living environment”, stated Minister Richardson.
All in all, the visit was a positive one whereby the members of parliament got a good view of the prison operations and spoke to various prison staff members and inmates. “Despite the challenges, the Prison and House of Detention is working diligently on improving the prison environment by tackling several crucial areas simultaneously. These areas are being worked on by the prison alongside the prison program manager and other technical assistance provided by Sint Maarten and the Netherlands”, says Mr. Bell, acting prison director.