Haiti: Improving detainees' living conditions

07 May 2015
Haiti: Improving detainees' living conditions
Port-de-Paix civilian prison. Detainees learning how fecal-oral diseases are transmitted and about the importance of washing their hands.

Living conditions in Haitian detention centres remain alarming despite efforts to improve them, and important needs have not yet been met. To improve this situation, the ICRC is helping the Haitian authorities address the problems stemming from prison overcrowding.
Update on the ICRC's activities in Haiti between January and March 2015.

In the first three months of 2015, the ICRC visited some 7,600 detainees in 12 detention centres in Haiti.

Fighting prolonged pre-trial detention

One of the main challenges facing the Haitian penitentiary system is the inability to comply with procedural deadlines, especially the maximum length of pre-trial detention. This situation has given rise to significant overcrowding in detention centres, which worsens the detainees' living conditions. The ICRC supported the authorities in their efforts to counter prolonged pre-trial detention by:

  • putting together a training session on proper working methods for forty-some registrars and legal assistants at the national prison service (Direction de l'administration pénitentiaire) in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan region. Topics included ensuring detainees are processed through the legal system in a timely manner; carrying out their courtroom tasks efficiently; and working towards a reduction in prison overcrowding;
  • providing technical and material support to the legal assistants at the Port-au-Prince and Pétion-Ville civilian prisons as part of operation "Coup de Poing" launched by the Ministry of Justice to resolve the problem of prolonged pre-trial detention;
  • organizing a workshop for 30 guards from the Croix-des-Bouquets civilian prison to inform them of the ICRC's observations on detention conditions there so that improvements could be made.

Improving health services in prisons

The lack of access to health care in prisons is a persistent problem, and resolving it is a priority for the ICRC. The organization is training and supervising prison medical staff, who are learning about the most common diseases in prisons and about how to manage treatments. Between January and March 2015, the ICRC provided support to the national prison service's medical division in:

  • fighting cholera outbreaks in the Port-au-Prince and Jacmel civilian prisons;
  • setting up mobile clinics for health and dental care in four prisons in the country; and
  • training health-care staff in treating malnutrition in five prisons.

The ICRC also promoted a cholera vaccination campaign in prisons to be run in 2015, seeking the support of the PAHO/WHO and the Expanded Programme on Immunization at the Ministry of Public Health.

Better infrastructure and hygiene in prisons

The ICRC continued its work in various detention centres in Haiti in order to improve infrastructures and detainees' living conditions.

Between January and March 2015, the ICRC:

  • refurbished and re-equipped the kitchen at the Cap-Haïtien civilian prison;
  • renovated the dispensary and the courtyard at the civilian prison in Grande Rivière du Nord;
  • implemented measures to improve hygiene and protect two water reservoirs, as part of the response to the cholera emergency at the Jacmel civilian prison;
  • prepared a site for a pharmacy to be set up at the national prison service; and
  • distributed cleaning items and personal hygiene kits in the civilian prisons of Arcahaïe, Saint Marc, Port-de-Paix, Jérémie, Les Cayes and Cap Haïtien.

The ICRC also began training ten employees of the national prison service – three hygienists and seven nurses – who will be responsible for promoting hygiene in the country's prisons.

Jacmel civilian prison. An ICRC doctor assists a doctor from the national prison service who is providing dental care to a detainee.

Other activities in Haiti

Promoting the law and humanitarian principles

The ICRC continued efforts to promote humanitarian principles aimed at members of the Haitian National Police and troops of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Special attention was paid to the importance of respecting the red cross emblem and the staff of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and of allowing medical workers to do their job. Hence the close cooperation between the ICRC and the National Society.

Cooperation with the Haitian Red Cross

The ICRC provides ongoing institutional support to the Haitian Red Cross aimed at improving its preparedness for crisis situations, its ability to raise awareness of humanitarian principles and its effectiveness in restoring contact between family members separated by a conflict, natural disaster or other event.

photos: CC BY-NC-ND/ICRC/ Nunes De Oliveira Melo Cameira, Joana

Port-de-Paix civilian prison. An ICRC hygienist supervises a detainee cleaning a cell.

Port-de-Paix civilian prison. An ICRC hygienist supervises a detainee cleaning a cell.

The kitchen at Cap-Haïtien civilian prison was renovated by the ICRC.

The kitchen at Cap-Haïtien civilian prison was renovated by the ICRC.