[Documents menu] Documents menu

Prison officers peeved, detail their grievances

The Daily Herald Newspaper Online, 26 (?) January 2000

PHILIPSBURG--Prison officers at the Pointe Blanche prison are peeved about conditions at the prison and, according to their spokesman Kenneth Engelhardt, they want head of the prison Frank Victoria removed.

Engelhardt reeled off a long list of grievances to The Daily Herald last night and said he and his fellow officers were particularly peeved that Minister of Justice Rutsel Martha had visited the prison Monday, but had not met with them.

Engelhardt, who is a Board member of the Windward Islands Civil Servants Union (WICSU), also reported that four of seven prison guards from Curaçao, who were brought to St. Maarten to beef up the staff, are threatening to return to Curaçao.

He said that by means of a lawyer's letter dispatched last Friday, they had given Minister Martha up to today to meet their demands that certain payments for the hotel where they are staying be made.

He said the hotel at which the officers from Curaçao are staying had told them that unless their bills are paid by month's end, they will have to give up their rooms.

He said their other grievances included overall poor management of the prison, with a lot of in-fighting among some senior personnel; poor salaries; serious understaffing, with a ratio of five to six prisoners per guard on each shift; no promotions since 1997; no uniforms--including footwear--since 1998; poor physical conditions at the prison, which he said is rat- and roach-infested; misuse of five new computers provided for prisoners' use, but being used by some senior persons to play solitaire; and the non-replacement of surveillance cameras damaged by Hurricane Georges in 1998.

He said he and his colleagues want Victoria removed and replaced by the number two man, Joseph Arrindell. "The head not functioning, so the body can't function," a female officer explained.

Engelhardt said a major grievance had to do with the prison being terribly understaffed, to the extent that the current staff of 55 officers needed to be doubled to take care of the nearly 120 prisoners.

Because of the serious understaffing and the fact that provision has to be made for sick leave and vacation, there are now only two 12-hour shifts per day with officers working from 7:00 to 7:00 and being required to work "a lot of overtime," he explained.

However, the administration's approach to payment for overtime, he added, is another source of concern, because while officers are often required to work in excess of 40 hours of overtime per month, in keeping with policy the administration pays them for only up to 40 hours of overtime per month.

And, contending that unlike the police, prison officers had not received salary increases last year, Engelhardt accused Minister Martha of being "for the police only."

"He is treating us as though we are the stepchildren," he added.

Meanwhile, according to Engelhardt, while WICSU does not represent the prison officers, he intends to tap into WICSU's resources and seek advice in tackling the several issues.