Thirsty, starving, and subjected to inhumane conditions, inmates in Haiti’s National Penitentiary are enduring a harrowing ordeal. The prison, notorious for its overcrowding, is grappling with severe fuel and food shortages caused by rampant gang violence. As a result, more than 80% of the Haiti prison’s 11,400 prisoners are held in pre-trial detention. Some for years without seeing a judge. The situation has reached a critical point, with the UN reporting that 185 inmates died last year from malnutrition-related diseases, and more deaths are expected.
Human rights experts and attorneys are sounding the alarm, warning of a looming humanitarian catastrophe. Attorney Arnel Rémy, the coordinator for Haiti’s Association of Lawyers for the Defense of Human Rights, expressed deep concern over the deteriorating conditions. While the Haiti government released over 70 prisoners convicted of minor offences. In response to public outcry and videos showing emaciated prisoners. Such actions are infrequent, leaving the majority of inmates to suffer and perish.
A study conducted by the University of Florida in December highlighted the dire situation within the prisons. The research revealed that male prisoners in Haiti consume fewer than 500 calories a day, indicating a starvation-level diet. Additionally, more than 75% of inmates were found to be at risk of scurvy and beriberi due to a lack of essential nutrients. Lockdowns exacerbate the issue as prisoners are not provided with food during these periods.
Disruption of Support and Escalation of Violence:
Although some inmates receive food from friends or family, this lifeline has been disrupted by the escalation of gang violence. That has impeded transportation and made it increasingly difficult to deliver sustenance to those inside. The scarcity of resources and the absence of a functioning justice system compound the suffering of inmates like François Gausly. He has been imprisoned for four years on theft charges without a trial. Gausly shared his plight of eating only once a day, sometimes having only rice or grits.
Haiti’s National Penitentiary, designed for 800 inmates, currently houses nearly 4,000 individuals, making it a hotbed of violence. Gunshots from warring gangs are a daily occurrence, further endangering the lives of both inmates and correctional officers. Nevertheless, loved ones of prisoners wait outside the facility, hoping to deliver food and necessities. However, anyone attempting to bring food or drink must taste it in the presence of corrections officers to prevent potential poisoning.
Lack of Government Intervention:
The humanitarian organization Health through Walls, based in Florida, provides medical care to inmates in Haiti’s prisons. The group offers reinforced supplements and protein shakes to combat malnutrition. In light of the deteriorating conditions and growing insecurity, nearly 70 inmates have been trained by the organization to identify and assist sick individuals within the prison. However, the lack of governmental support and swift action has raised concerns among attorneys, prompting some to pool their resources to purchase food for the inmates.
The Ministry of Justice, responsible for overseeing Haiti’s prisons, has not responded to requests for comment on the dire situation. Meanwhile, the plight of the inmates worsens, with prominent attorney Robinson Pierre-Louis, who was detained last year on charges related to an arms-trafficking case, describing the conditions as “savage” and “disgraceful.” The absence of government intervention further compounds the suffering of inmates, leaving them in a desperate fight for survival.
As the situation in Haiti’s National Penitentiary continues to deteriorate, urgent action is needed to alleviate the suffering and prevent a full-blown humanitarian crisis.