PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — An official said Thursday that at least eight inmates have died in an overcrowded prison in Haiti, which ran out of food two months ago, with dozens more similar deaths this year as the country’s institutions crumble.
Hunger and oppressive heat contributed to the deaths of prisoners reported this week by a prison in the southwestern city of Les Cayes, city government commissioner Ronald Richemonde told The Associated Press. According to him, 833 prisoners are kept in the prison.
“Whoever can help should help immediately, because the prisoners need it,” he said.
Last week, the UN Security Council released a report saying that between January and April alone, Haiti, in a country of more than 11 million people, recorded 54 malnutrition-related prison deaths.
He urged the Haitian government to “take the necessary measures to find a long-term solution to the food, water and medicine prison crisis.”
The country’s heavily overcrowded prison system has long been unable to provide prisoners with food and water. He blames the lack of public funds, and the problem has worsened in recent months, leading to a new increase in acute malnutrition and deaths.
Haitian prisons are required by law to provide prisoners with water and two meals a day, which usually consists of porridge and a bowl of rice with fish or meat.
But in recent months, prisoners have been forced to rely solely on friends or relatives for food and water, and in many cases they can’t visit because gang-related violence is making some neighborhoods impassable, said Michelle Karshan, co-founder of the nonprofit Health. . through Walls, which provides medical care in Haiti’s prisons.
This year, the nonprofit joined three other organizations to feed some 11,000 prisoners in Haiti’s 20 prisons for three months, helping as the country grew increasingly volatile following the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
But since then the situation has worsened.
“These deaths are very painful,” she said. “Internal organs begin to fail one by one. … It’s terrible to see it.”
Health Through Walls has launched several programs to address this problem in the long term, including the creation of a prison garden in northern Haiti that grows spinach and other crops, as well as a chicken coop and a fish farm.
“But this is one prison,” said Karshan. “The bottom line is that the prison system needs to take responsibility. They cannot sit idly by. … This is the government.”
Les Cais and other towns in the southern region of Haiti have also been hit by a surge in gang violence that has blocked major roads out of the Haitian capital, making it extremely difficult to get food and other supplies to the rest of the country, Pierre said. Esperance, executive director of the National Human Rights Network of Haiti.
In addition, the water pump that Les Cay relies on has long since broken down, forcing relatives and friends of prisoners to carry buckets of water for long distances, Richemonde said.
Les Cais, like nearby towns, is also still struggling to recover from the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck southwest Haiti in August, which killed more than 2,200 people and destroyed or damaged thousands of buildings.
Richemont said some of the prison cells were destroyed and not rebuilt, forcing the authorities to cram even more people into the smaller space.
Cell occupancy in Haiti is over 280%, according to the UN, with 83% of prisoners in pre-trial detention, which in some cases can last more than a decade before an initial court appearance, according to the UN. Many prisoners walk in turns. sleeping on the floor while others just stand or try to make hammocks and attach them to the cell windows, paying someone to keep their place.
In January 2010, some 400 inmates at the Les Cay prison rioted to protest deteriorating conditions. Authorities said police killed at least 12 prisoners and injured up to 40.
Esperance of the National Human Rights Network blamed the government for the situation and said officials should establish the rule of law.
“The situation is getting worse every day,” he said. “They can only solve the problem for one or two weeks. After that, the problem will continue. Today it is Les Cayes. He might be somewhere else tomorrow.”
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.