Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haiti prison population rises; US aid ineffective, audit says

The USAID audit on Haiti’s prison system referenced in the story below

can be found at:

Reprinted from Caribbean Net News

Haiti prison population rises; US aid ineffective, audit says Published on May 03, 2007

By Neil Roland

WASHINGTON, USA (Bloomberg):� Haiti’s prisons are swelling with people awaiting trial, and US aid aimed at alleviating the situation is having little impact, an audit said.

The number of prisoners has been climbing since February 2004, when jails were emptied upon the resignation of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The average time in pre-trial detention has risen from 76 days in September 2004 to 408 days in December 2006, said a report by the inspector general of the US Agency for International Development.

AID’s $3.7 million program to improve the flow of cases is insufficient, and monitoring by US officials has produced misleading, overly optimistic reports, said the 28-page report posted Wednesday on the agency’s Web site.

“Thousands of Haitians are imprisoned — often in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions — while they await trial,” the report said. “This problem requires urgent attention.”

About 2,000 inmates were awaiting trial in the National Penitentiary as of November 2006, and Haiti’s courts have the capacity to handle only between 160 and 320 jury trials a year, the report said.

Judges are perceived as corrupt and incompetent, and poor defendants often are represented by law students who don’t press for speedy trials, the report said.

AID’s two-year program started in September 2005 aims to train judges, prosecutors and court personnel and make Haitians more aware of their legal rights.

In AID’s fiscal 2006 annual report, it said US assistance was “demonstrably improving the lives of Haitians,” and “judges, prosecutors and justice officials are applying the law more professionally, impartially and consistently.”

The audit released Wednesday said, “No evidence exists to show that judges, prosecutors and justice officials are applying the law more professionally, impartially and consistently.”

Auditors said, though, that while AID “has not yet produced measurable improvements,” it “has helped lay a basis for future progress.”

AID’s top official in Haiti, Paul Tuebner, said the agency is planning a five-year program that seeks to “increase the extremely low conviction rate to better reflect the growing crime rate that grips the nation.”

“Justice sector change is a long-term, multi-faceted endeavor,” he said in an April 11 letter appended to the report.

AID spokesman Harry Edwards in Washington didn’t respond to a request for a comment.

Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, quit under pressure from rebels and the governments of the US and France, and went into exile in the Central African Republic.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with about 54 percent of its 8.4 million people living on less than $1 a day. It has been beset for decades by political and economic instability as well as kidnappings and other violent gang crimes.

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