A recent report by the Associated Press depicts hellish and lethal conditions suffered by inmates in Haiti's jails, providing further evidence that, like many aspects of the island nation's justice system, the prisons are utterly failing.
The Special Representative in Haiti for the United Nations Secretary General and head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, Sandra Honoré, called on February 20 for authorities to take urgent action to address the issue of the island's penitentiary situation, noting that 42 prisoners have already died so far this year.
At least 21 of these deaths occurred in the capital city Port-au-Prince's prison in January, reported the Associated Press following an investigation into the dire incarceration conditions in Haiti.
The island's penitentiaries have the highest overcrowding rate in the world at 454 percent, according to data from the University of London's Institute for Criminal Policy Research relayed by the investigation. Some 80 percent of the 11,000 total inmates are in pretrial detention, meaning that they have never been convicted of a crime. A 2014 report by the London Evening Standard said that it was not uncommon for prisoners to be held for three years before their trial.
In addition, the state lacks adequate funds to provide inmates with drinkable water, edible food and sanitary housing structures. As a result, prisoners suffer from widespread and sometimes deadly malnutrition, as well as infectious diseases.
A doctor and founder of a non-governmental organization that works on improving penitentiary living conditions told the Associated Press that Haiti's jails are experiencing the "worst rate of preventable deaths that [he had] encountered anywhere in the world."
The report also notes that these conditions fuel corruption, as many inmates see bribing judges as their only way out of a prison system whose high mortality rate has led Danton Léger, Haiti's chief prosecutor, to finance mass burials of inmates.
"The men in there are forced to live like animals. They can at least be buried like people," the official told the Associated Press.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Associated Press investigation is the latest evidence of severe problems with Haiti's penitentiary system, as well as the judiciary system writ large. The dire state of the prisons suggests that the island nation is a long way from being able to develop rehabilitation programs that could help curb criminal recidivism, or ensure that impartial justice is carried out.
The issues with Haiti's penetentiary system are hardly new. In October 2016, Reuters reported on a massive prison break in which more than 170 inmates escaped, killing one guard and stealing firearms in the process. This incident is not an isolated case; InSight Crime had previously reported on the escape of 300 inmates in 2014 as a sign of the shortcomings within the prison system.
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The broken penitentiary system also symbolizes the broader failings of Haiti's justice system, whose lack of capacity has resulted in widespread impunity. A string of Haiti's top politicians, including current President Jovenel Moïse, have been suspected of various crimes without ever facing trial on the island, a trend that suggests serious institutional weaknesses.