Haitian prisoners face starvation and death

Hundreds of inmates have died in Haitian prisons in recent months as the country’s prisons are riddled with corruption, gang violence, and mismanagement.

The most recent deaths occurred in the first two days of September in the Jacmel prison, in southern Haiti, where the death of four inmates was reported. It is very likely that his death was due to malnutrition, respiratory problems or starvation, according to the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste. And it is also likely that other inmates died afterwards.

Several local human rights organizations have been forced to ask neighboring families to share food with the prison, he pointed Le Nouvelliste; you too, according to In the same newspaper, the agents of the National Penitentiary Administration asked the peasants in the area for fruit to distribute among the prisoners.

Jacmel is not the only Haitian prison where problems have become more acute in meeting the needs of its inmates. At least eight people deprived of liberty died in the Les Cayes National Penitentiary after the prison ran out of supplies two months ago, as reported Associated Press (AP). In June, it public on Twitter a video in which several emaciated and malnourished prisoners were seen grouped around a passed out colleague.

SEE ALSO: Haiti’s Chaotic Prisons Symbolize Corrupt Justice System

The country’s prisoners suffer from malnutrition, spend little or no time outdoors or in recreational activities, and are denied visits, Marie Yolène Gilles, executive director of the prison, told InSight Crime. Fondasyon je Klerk, Haitian human rights organization. Although the official number of deaths is not clear, prison conditions have caused 41 deaths in the last two months, according to Gilles. And throughout 2022, there have been some 100 deaths, as Gédéon Jean, executive director of the Center for Analysis and Research on Human Rights, told InSight Crime (Center d’analyse et de recherche en droits de l’hommeCARDH).

Haitian prisons house a great diversity of inmates. Many have been arbitrarily detained and imprisoned for protesting, petty theft or minor disputes. But these occupy the same cells as the most serious offenders, who have spent years in prison, such as gang members Joly Germine, alias “Yonyon”, leader of the Haitian gang 400 Mawozo, and Arnel Joseph, who became one of the Haiti’s most wanted criminals.

“In general, all prisoners, regardless of their offense or charge, share the same cells. They are not divided by the seriousness of their crimes,” Michelle Karshan, co-founder and vice president of the NGO, told InSight Crime. Health Through Walls (Health behind bars).

According to a report submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) seen by InSight Crime, armed clashes in Haitian prisons show that prisoners have weapons and help from gangs and prison agents. National prisons often “suffer from a shortage of correctional officers on duty or in their assigned position,” which puts prisoners and other guards at risk.

Recently, the Haitian government has been increasingly implementing the retention of criminals deported from the United States upon arrival in Haiti. Haitian police have demanded thousands of dollars from the prisoners’ families in exchange for their release, Karshan told InSight Crime.

One of those prisoners is Patrick Julney, who has lived in the United States since a very young age. He was deported to Haiti in June 2022 and, upon his arrival, some police officers demanded US$6,000 to set him free, according to the local news portal NorthJersey.com. As of September 17, Julney remained in detention at the Port-au-Prince National Penitentiary.

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Several factors have contributed to chronic food shortages and the rising number of deaths in Haiti’s prisons.

The collapse of judicial institutions in Haiti exacerbated the problems of the prisons. In June and July of this year, gangs invaded courts in Port-au-Prince, destroying files and evidence. Events like this extremely reduce the possibility of prisoners reaching a fair trial and generate overcrowding in the country’s prisons.

Prison overcrowding has exacerbated food shortages. It is common for detainees to spend several years in prison before coming to trial. They are prone to getting lost in the system, “by being held without files of any kind that attest to their permanence in prison”, according to the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains, RNDDH).

As of May 2021, the prison population in Haiti was about 11,580 detainees, of which only 2,071 had been sentenced for a crime, according to the report presented to the United Nations Council. With 82 percent of Haitian inmates in pretrial detention, the country’s prisons are three times their occupancy rate.

SEE ALSO: A murdered policeman and burning courts: the new reality of Haiti

Detainees are often kept in temporary cells of police units for long periods to reduce overcrowding in national prisons, says Karshan. Detainees are rarely given food, and most of their needs are met by family and friends. But even so, the general climate of insecurity in the country makes this task almost impossible. Family members who cannot bring food and medicine to detainees find it impossible to move because of the gang violence and massive protests across the country.

Food can be purchased in national prisons, but inmates face various obstacles in doing so, Karshan notes. First, they need cash to buy food, which is sold to them at high prices. All this is difficult considering that their relatives rarely see them. Families can transfer money to the gangs that control the prisons, but before the inmates can receive any money, the gangs collect fees on the consignment.

And widespread corruption makes the task of those who seek to help more difficult. For example, InSight Crime found that Karshan’s organization and other NGOs that deliver food to Haitian prisons have been forced to pay government agents thousands of dollars to get the food to its destination.

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Haitian prisoners face starvation and death