Dignity and Justice as Human Rights: Haiti's Prisons

 

In a country where violence, government oppression and natural disasters are common, it is not surprising to hear of the other array of international and domestic laws being violated in the region. Yet, many are surprised to hear of the depth of the issue within Haiti, regarding its prison and criminal justice systems, which has grown over the years and increased with every major political event like the 2010 earthquake or the 1995 political protesting violence. Amidst the surprise, is shock from the graphic and inhumane experiences told from current and former prisoners which contribute to Haiti’s ranking of being home to the worlds worst detention and prison centres; Port-au-Prince National Penitentiary being deemed the worst of them all, can be found in the country’s capital. Historically, the institutions have been under fire due to the issue of overcrowding, which resulted in approximately 9,000 individuals locked up in 17 centers that only house 3,000 for the year 2018; however, overcrowding is not one single issue, but a floodgate, to a whole other set of human rights violations, including disease, malnutrition, lack of sanitary services and lack of legal support. In addition to these issues, due to the rising tensions and high emotions from prisoners and guards who are extremely limited and undertrained, violence is strife within the prisons, contributing to the death toll that is already influenced by preventable situations like disease and malnutrition.

While 9,000 prisoners seems like a significant amount of citizens squished into very few facilities, in prior years, such as 2014 and 2016, inmate counts rose up past 10,000, leaving many advocates up in arms about the progression which has been made by the United Nation’s Special Envoy unit which has operated in the country for at least 10 years. However, it is clear from the change in inmates that something has slowly changed on the island. Whether it be the United Nations efforts, the governments or the new commission set up in 2016 to investigate the claims and conditions of the prison system, whatever it is, needs to be supported, emphasized and highlighted as an important change in the progression of citizens attainment of human rights.

Even though there are heavy criticisms from NGOs and other advocates against these three entities which primarily oversee the conditions and structures of the prison system in Haiti, they have collected some critical information from former and current inmates about their experiences within these institutions. Some of their findings have shown “New arrivals jostle for space on filthy floors where inmates on lockdown 22 hours a day must defecate into plastic bags in the absence of latrines;” Whereas, past arrivals who have had to call these institutions home for several months or even years report, “sleep(ing) in makeshift hammocks suspended from the ceiling or squeeze four to a bunk.” Many agree that these conditions are extremely unacceptable and are totally preventable, especially considering there are both domestic and international laws to protect citizens against these heinous crimes. Yet, many also agree that if nothing drastic and radical occurs to reform the prison and criminal justice system in Haiti that both innocent and guilty people will continue to die and be tortured in government-run facilities.

 

  1. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4241466/Haitian-prison-inmates-live-filthy-conditions.html

  2. http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Haiti-gov-t-creates-commission-to-probe-prison-conditions

  3. http://www.prisonstudies.org/country/haiti

  4. http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/latestnews/Haiti_ranked_worst_country_for_most_overcrowded_prisons_in_the_world?profile=1228

  5. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/01/haiti-prisons-overcrowding-major-problem-180105130018827.html

  6. https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CCPR/Shared%20Documents/HTI/INT_CCPR_CSS_HTI_18247_E.pdf

  7. https://peacekeeping.un.org/mission/past/unmihbackgr1.html

Copyright © Courtney Joshua 2018

Author: Courtney Joshua
A university graduate and an English language instructor with a passion for human rights, specifically the right to education!

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