Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Hellish conditions prevail in Haiti jails (AFP)

By Clarens Renois, AFP
July 12, 2007

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti- A surge of violent crime has crammed Haitian jails far beyond capacity, in “inhuman conditions” where inmates often lack water, medical care or enough room to sleep lying down.

Prison in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. AFP PHOTO

“Conditions inside are awful. The facilities are overwhelmed and no longer meet international standards, but we cannot do any better,” said Haiti’s Penitentiary Administration director Jean Roland Celestin.

Since 2003, Haiti’s prison population doubled, from 3,500 to 7,000, officials said.

An Inter American Commission on Human Rights reported on prisons last month: “Overpopulation creates inhuman conditions that result in a serious risk to the security and physical integrity of persons deprived of liberty and poses a further risk to the situation of insecurity of the (Haitian) population in general.”

The commission noted deteriorated prisons without adequate shelter, water and medical attention.

“In the Delmas police station … women, men and children shared a common cell, without water, food or any other basic service,” the commission said.

The police station cells were meant to hold persons no longer than 48 hours, but several persons had been held for weeks — without being charged or seeing a judge.

The UN stabilization soldiers in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has often blamed a dysfunctional justice system in part for overcrowding and hellish conditions in prisons.

The commission found that in June, 84 percent of all inmates had not been judged or charged: 98 percent of boys in the Prison for Minors in Delmas; 95 percent of women at Petion-ville; and 96 percent of inmates at the National Penitentiary.

That penitentiary, with half of Haiti’s inmates, was built under US occupation 1915-1934, and nearly 3,000 inmates are stuffed by the hundreds in small cells.

“Some prisoners sleep standing up — others in a sitting position or take turns lying down — some in the morning, others at night,” said a prison guard.

Celestin said there were .65 inmates per square meter (11 square feet) of prison space, when the international standard calls for one prisoner per four square meters of space.

“We’re aware of the situation and we’re trying to make improvements with what little means the country has,” he added.

Things recently deteriorated further, amid increasing arrests of drug traffickers, kidnappers and the arrival of numerous Haitian criminals extradited from Canada and the United States.

“The prisoner profile has changed, but the conditions are still the same,” said Celestin, who also regretted the shortage of prison guards, saying there were only 321 in all Haiti’s prisons: a guard-to-prisoner ratio of 1-12.

He said the government plans to recruit 400 security officers, build new penitentiaries and refurbish old ones.

“We’re still a long way from meeting international standards,” he admitted.

Canada recently contributed two million dollars for the improvement of Haiti’s prison system, on top of 10 million dollars it already pledged in February to help reform the national police and curb violence in the country.

Working closely with Haitian officials in the improvement effort are foreign experts sent especially by the United Nations.

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