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7491: In Haitian jails, 'prisoners are trash' (fwd)
From: nozier <email@example.com>
Published Sunday, March 25, 2001 MIAMI HERALD
In Haitian jails, 'prisoners are trash' By YVES COLON
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The United States tried to help bring about
judicial reforms in Haiti several years ago, spending millions through
the United States Agency for International Development.
Critics say most of that money was lost because of an incompetent
contractor. U.S. officials, meanwhile, say they made gains in training
and educating judges as part of the USAID program. Clifford Larose,
the head of Haiti's prison system and a former journalist and militant
in President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's Family Lavalas party, touts
some marginal prison system ``improvements,'' but doesn't hide his
embarrassment. He runs the 19 prisons in Haiti with the same $2.5
million budget that was approved by Parliament in 1995. Back then, he
notes, the prisons held 1,500 inmates. Now they hold more than double
``That's the Haitian reality,'' said Larose.
But, said Jean-Paul Lupien, a French Canadian who consults for the
United Nations Development Program, it's not enough for officials like
Larose just to be aware of the conditions. ``It's time for them
to pass on to action,'' he said. ``Prisons are one of the lowest
priorities for them.'' Lupien explains the official indifference as a
cultural bias. When he first brought up the idea of spending $4.5
million to put tin roofs on cells, which provided prisoners no
shelter from the elements, officials laughed at him, he said.
``They said to me, `You want to spend $4 million on prisoners and
we can't even feed our people,' '' Lupien recalled. ``Here prisoners
are trash. You don't look at trash, you don't care about trash.''
Even without the proper resources, Larose said he wants to
do the right thing, where he can. Dressed in a brown suit, Larose
recently strolled with visitors along Penitentier National's crumbling
yellow walls, which are crowned with a
loop of razor wire. At one of the guard posts, he found a tape
recorder that belonged to an officer. He broke it. ``The rule is no
distractions on the wall,'' Larose said, as he confidently
walked away from the grumbling officer. There are 130 officers, many of
them former military men who are badly paid, to guard the inmates in the
entire prison system. Larose said he needs twice that number.
At Penitentier National, only the six guards in the watch towers
During his walk, Larose snapped at a couple of naked male prisoners
taking a bath in the courtyard. He wanted them to face the wall. Inmates
bathe in the open, picking water from a bucket and pouring it over
their heads. Warden Jean-Daniel René, 31, said running the jail isn't
easy. ``You find the same problems here you find outside,'' René
said. ``We have food problems, water problems, no money to buy gas to
drive the prisoners when they need to go to court, sanitation,
medicine, you name it.''
When he makes a request for special funding, René said, the check has
to go through a dozen offices before it gets to him. ``It's not an easy
job,'' he said.
Each cell block has a courtyard, with names like Boi Verna, Titanic,
Brik, Quartier Rok. Titanic is a three-story unpainted building that
stands in stark contrast to the rest of the old walls. It is
where authorities keep the most dangerous inmates, mostly drug dealers,
many of them Colombians who have taken advantage of Haiti's
political instability to transfer cocaine to the United States,
mainly through mules or on ships that dock at the Miami River. There
are about 20 Haitians deported from the United States and Canada in
the jail, René said. The courtyards are paved now. Before, prisoners
used the rocks in the yard to stone the guards.
Amnesty International, in a 1996 report, said it was pleased with
improvements in Haiti's jails. Officials at least were keeping
up-to-date lists of inmates. ``Though still poor by international
standards, prison conditions have gradually shown a marked improvement
over those that existed in the past,'' the report said. ``However,
overcrowding, resulting mainly from long delays in the judicial
process, is still a serious problem and has provoked tensions in some
prisons. Sanitary conditions, food supplies and health care, on the
other hand, are said to have generally improved in most places.''
That was five years ago. Even the latter is no longer true in Haiti