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High-Profile Escapes from New Haitian Prison Highlight Country's Problems

The recent daring escape of prisoner Clifford Brandt from Haiti's prison in Crois-des-Bouquet was yet another embarrassment for the country's criminal justice system.  Beset by rampant corruption, nepotism, financial problems, and incompetence, the prison suffered the biggest jailbreak in a well-planned attack aimed at freeing Brandt, son a wealthy businessman.  Brandt had confessed to participating in the abduction of the adult son and daughter of a business rival. Over 300 prisoners escaped in the same incident.

Correctional experts have long derided Haiti for weakness in their security and justice systems, as well as lengthy delays in bringing defendants to trial.  Brandt had been in custody without trial for almost two years before he escaped. Although Haitian authorities had been praised for the arrest of Brandt, his escape showed the systemic shortcomings of the country's criminal justice system. According to National Police Chief Godson Orelius, "I would have never wished for something like this to happen. What happened yesterday is something that is unacceptable, knowing all of the sacrifice the police have made to combat kidnapping and imprisoned a series of kidnappers so the population can live in peace."

Extensive efforts were underway to capture escaped prisoners, and several had been taken into custody. According to Secretary of State for public security, authorities had also set up several police checkpoints along the border with the Dominican Republic.

According to Bill O'Neill, a human-rights lawyer with decades of involvement in Haiti's legal system, said, "When you talking about justice and rule of law, it is much more than about bricks and mortar or beautiful new prisons and lovely courthouses.  It's really about the people who run them and the culture of the organization that matters most...There is no serious oversight, so people can literally get away with all kinds of things.  The oversight of prison guards, of the justice system, is still lax and there is no internal discipline to make people do their job." 

Canada, which had funded the construction of the $6 million prison, had said that the facility "will be the most modern facility in Haiti's prison system (and) will be a model facility in terms of safety and security, hygiene and health conditions, and respect for prisoner's rights." 

Source: "Haiti offers reward in prison break, vows to capture escapees," by Jacqueline Charles, August 11, 2014.

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