Official: 8 more die in Haiti prisons due to lack of food, water

PORT-AU-Prince, Haiti (AP) — At least eight inmates who ran out of food two months ago have died at an overcrowded prison in Haiti, dozens more this year, an official said on Thursday. Similar deaths occurred because the institutions of the country collapsed.

City government commissioner Ronald Richmond told the Associated Press that hunger and oppressive heat contributed to the inmate deaths reported by the prison in the southwest city of Les Cays this week. He said that there are 833 prisoners in the jail.

“Whoever can help should help immediately because the prisoners are in need,” he said.

The United Nations Security Council released a report last week that documented 54 malnutrition-related deaths in Haiti alone between January and April in the country of more than 11 million people.

It urged Haiti’s government to “take the necessary measures to find a long-term solution to the prison’s food, water and drug crisis.”

The country’s overcrowded prison system has long struggled to provide food and water to prisoners. It blames insufficient government funding and the problem has worsened in recent months, leading to severe malnutrition and a new increase in deaths.

By law, prisons in Haiti are required to provide inmates with water and twice a day food, which usually consists of porridge and a bowl of rice with fish or some kind of meat.

But in recent months, prisoners have been forced to rely entirely on friends or family for food and water, and are often unable to travel because gang-related violence makes some areas impassable. , said Michelle Karshan, co-founder of the nonprofit Health Through the Walls, which provides health care in Haiti’s prisons.

The nonprofit joined three other organizations this year to feed nearly 11,000 inmates in Haiti’s 20 prisons for three months, helping at a time when the country is increasingly destabilizing after the July 7 assassination of President Jovanel Mosse. was.

But since then the situation has worsened.

“These deaths are very painful,” she said. “The internal organs start failing one by one. … it’s a terrible thing to see.”

Health Through the Walls has launched several programs to target the longstanding problem, including starting a garden in a prison in northern Haiti that produces spinach and other crops, along with a chicken coop and a fish farm. does.

“But that’s a prison,” said Karan. “The bottom line is that the prison system has to take responsibility. They can’t sit back. …they are the government. ,

Pierre said that Les Cayes and other cities in Haiti’s southern region have also been affected by a spike in mass violence that has blocked main roads leading out of Haiti’s capital, leaving food and other cities in the rest of the country. It has become extremely difficult to distribute supplies. Esperance, executive director of Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network.

In addition, a water pump on which Les Cays prison relies has long since broken down, forcing relatives and friends of prisoners to carry buckets of water from long distances, Richmond said.

Les Caes, like the surrounding cities, is still struggling to recover from a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck southwest Haiti in August, which killed more than 2,200 people and destroyed or damaged thousands of buildings.

Richmond said some of the prison’s cells were destroyed and not rebuilt, forcing officials to cram even more people into a smaller space.

According to the United Nations, the cell occupancy rate in Haiti is over 280%, with 83% of prisoners stuck in pre-trial detention, which in some cases can last more than a decade before a preliminary court appearance . Sleeping on the floor while others are simply standing or try to make hammocks and attach them to the cell’s windows, paying someone to hold their place.

In January 2010, some 400 inmates at the prison in Les Cays rioted to protest the deteriorating conditions. At least 12 prisoners were killed and 40 others were injured by the police, officials said.

Esperance, along with the National Human Rights Defense Network, blamed the current situation on the government and said authorities needed to enforce the rule of law.

“The situation is getting worse day by day. “They can only fix the problem for a week or two. After that the problem will remain. Today, it’s Les Cays. Tomorrow, it could be somewhere else.”

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Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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