Haiti: Prison Reform and the Rule of Law
Port-au-Prince/Brussels, 4 May 2007: Haiti?s tenuous steps toward police and judicial reform cannot succeed unless the overcrowded, insecure prison system is also overhauled.
Haiti: Prison Reform and the Rule of Law,* the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, warns that the prisons are powder kegs that could erupt and further destabilise the country unless immediate steps are taken to alleviate overcrowding and prevent violence or mass escape.
?A dangerous cycle has begun of ?managing? Haiti?s prison crisis through uncontrolled releases and even the acceptance of escapes?, says Crisis Group Senior Analyst Damien Helly. ?This is just adding to the broader problems of impunity and insecurity that have undercut the country?s confidence in rule-of-law?.
More than 5,000 prisoners are crowded into Haiti?s seventeen prisons, but only ten per cent have been convicted, and many have yet to be charged. Dangerous offenders are housed with petty criminals, disease is rampant, prisoners take turns sleeping or sitting and are granted access to sanitation facilities just once a day, which is often the only time they leave their cells. Despite promises by donors in the Interim Cooperation Framework (ICF) of 2004, there have been no significant steps to rehabilitate prisons and none at all to build them.
?Donors should urgently put in place a plan to finance and build secure prisons, hire more guards and put the most dangerous offenders in maximum security cells. Otherwise, the progress President René Préval?s government has made in its first year on police and justice reform will be threatened?, Mark Schneider, Crisis Group Senior Vice President, said.
UN peacekeepers (MINUSTAH) have helped the government combat urban gangs and organised crime in a series of major operations since late 2006 but ironically the increase in arrests of gang members and serious crime convictions has exacerbated prison system overcrowding. Prolonged pre-trial detention and an increase in longer sentences for serious crimes are also making the system even more vulnerable.
Haiti?s justice ministry and donors must ensure the newly-created detention commission moves quickly on the most urgent and longest pending cases and identify prisoners who should be released if they are not a threat to society. Dangerous offenders should be moved to more secure areas while a maximum security prison is built, and existing prisons need to be modernised and expanded. An emergency donors conference should be held to meet immediate prison construction and correction staff needs and plan for long-term reforms.
?The Préval government wants to mark a new era of justice and rule of law for Haiti?, says Alain Délétroz, Crisis Group Vice President and Latin America Program Director. ?It will only be possible to realise that vision, however, when attention has been paid to the crisis in the country?s prisons, and adequate facilities have been set up and strengthened?.