On February 20, 2017, the Jamaica Observer reported that overcrowding, malnutrition and infectious diseases that flourish in tight quarters have led to an increasing number of prisoner deaths, including 21 at the Port-au-Prince National Penitentiary the previous month.
“This is the worst rate of preventable deaths that I have encountered anywhere in the world,” said Dr. John May, a Florida physician and co-founder of the non-profit group Health Through Walls. As men continue to die unnecessarily at the National Penitentiary, Port-au-Prince chief prosecutor Danton Leger has been holding mass burials, even purchasing caskets and floral arrangements for deceased prisoners, who previously were dumped in a potter’s field.
“The men in there are forced to live like animals. They can at least be buried like people,” Leger told the Associated Press.
“Straight up: This is hell. Getting locked up in Haiti will drive you crazy if it doesn’t kill you first,” said Vangeliste Bazile. Bazile, a homicide suspect, was being held in prolonged pre-trial detention – like 80 percent of those incarcerated in Haitian jails. “Only the strong can make it in here,” added Ronel Michel, imprisoned in one of the crumbling cellblocks where a lack of toilets forces prisoners to defecate into plastic bags.
Prisons in any number of countries are overcrowded, but Haiti’s penal system operates at a staggering 454 percent occupancy. It is by far the world’s most congested corrections system according to the latest ranking by the University of London’s Institute for Criminal Policy Research. In 2008, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Haiti to bring its “inhuman” prisons in line with minimum international standards, but it apparently has yet to comply.
PLN has previously reported on deficiencies and squalid conditions in Haitian prisons and jails. [See, e.g.: PLN, Mar. 2017, p.63; Mar. 2012, p.48].
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