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Dominican Women Prisoners Strike for Conjugal Visits

In November of 2001, women prisoners in the Najayo public prison in San Cristóbal on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic, carried out a protest during which they set fire to and burned all the books, doors and shelving in the prison library and furniture, television sets, mattresses, sheets and other utensils in their section of the prison. One woman was badly burned and taken to the hospital; others were affected by smoke and gas. After three units of firefighters fought the blaze for over two hours police were called in to reestablish order. The protest had been the women's response to the construction of a wall isolating their section of the prison from that of the men. Two days later the women began the protest again; this time no one was reported injured.

The position taken by the court and prison authorities was that the women were simply upset because they would no longer be able to have sexual relations with their counterparts in the men's section. They allege that the men paid for the women's "services" and, as a result, a sort of generalized disorder surrounded sexual activity within the prison. Six women had only recently become pregnant and six children born previously lived in the prison with their mothers. The entire situation had evidently caused the Public Ministry no small amount of distress; its solution had been the construction of the wall against which the women protested.

In this context it should be pointed out that conjugal visits, allowed in only a few states in the United States (New York, California, New Mexico, Mississippi and Washington), are the norm in most other countries.

By early December, the Commissioner for the Reform and Modernization of Justice, Enrique García, had turned a pavilion over to the Department of Prisons. At a cost of $1.65 million, it was provided with 20 cells and 80 beds, a meeting room and a wash room There, as García, put it, " the verb `to love' could be conjugated." Each women prisoner would each be allowed relations with one previously designated partner. The Department of Prisons would be responsible for implementing the controls necessary to register conjugal partners, to determine how often conjugal meetings would be allowed and whatever medical procedures might be necessary.

"With the opening of this section of conjugal cells the country places itself among the most developed nations that give facilities to their women prisoners so that they may maintain intimate relations with their legally identified companions," said García. He does not, evidently, consider the colossus directly to the north of his country to be among the most developed nations. Many, both inside and outside of U.S. prisons would agree.

Source: Periódico Hoy , Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

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