PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) – An official said on Thursday that at least eight inmates died in an overcrowded prison in Haiti that ran out of food two months ago, adding to dozens of similar deaths this year as the country’s institutions collapsed.
Hunger and oppressive heat have contributed to the deaths of inmates reported this week from prison in the southwestern city of Les Cayes, Ronald Richemond, a city government commissioner, told the Associated Press. He said the prison houses 833 detainees.
“Whoever can help, let them help immediately because the prisoners are in need,” he said.
The United Nations Security Council released a report last week saying that 54 deaths in malnutrition-related prisons were recorded in Haiti between January and April alone.
He urged the Haitian government to “take the necessary steps to find a lasting solution to the food, water and drug crisis in prisons”.
The country’s extremely overcrowded penitentiary system has long struggled to provide food and water to detainees. He blames insufficient government funds and the problem has worsened in recent months, leading to a further rise in severe malnutrition and deaths.
By law, prisons in Haiti are required to provide prisoners with water and two meals a day, which usually consist of porridge and a bowl of rice with fish or some kind of meat.
In recent months, however, inmates have been forced to rely solely on friends or family for food and water and often cannot visit because gang-related violence makes some areas inaccessible, said Michelle Karshan, co-founder of the nonprofit Health. . through Walls, which provides health care in Haitian prisons.
The nonprofit has joined three other organizations this year to feed some 11,000 inmates in Haiti’s 20 prisons for three months, helping at a time when the country has become increasingly unstable since the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
But since then the situation has worsened.
“These deaths are very painful,” he said. “The internal organs are starting to fail one by one. “It’s a horrible thing to see.”
Health through Walls has launched several programs to address the problem in the long term, including setting up a garden in a prison in northern Haiti that produces spinach and other crops, along with a coop and a planned fish farm.
“But this is a prison,” Karshan said. “The bottom line is that the penitentiary system has to take responsibility. They can not sit back. “It’s the government.”
Les Cayes and other towns in southern Haiti have also been hit by an escalating gang violence that has blocked major roads outside the Haitian capital, making it extremely difficult to distribute food and other supplies to the rest of the country, he said. Pierre. Espérance, Executive Director of the National Human Rights Network of Haiti.
In addition, a water pump on which Les Cayes Prison is based has long since broken down, forcing relatives and friends of detainees to carry buckets of water over long distances, Richmond said.
Les Cayes, like the surrounding cities, is still struggling to recover from a magnitude 7.2 earthquake that struck southwestern Haiti in August, killing more than 2,200 people and destroying or destroying thousands of buildings.
Richmond said some of the prison cells had been destroyed and had not been rebuilt, forcing authorities to squeeze even more people into a smaller space.
The cell rate in Haiti is over 280% of capacity, with 83% of detainees being held in pre-trial detention, which in some cases can last for more than a decade before their first court appearance, according to the UN. Prisoners take turns sleeping on the floor while others simply stand or try to make hammocks and fasten them to cell windows, paying someone to hold their place.
In January 2010, about 400 inmates at Les Cayes Prison rose up to protest the deteriorating situation. Authorities say police killed at least 12 detainees and injured up to 40 others.
Espérance, with the National Network for the Protection of Human Rights, blamed the current situation on the government and said officials should enforce the rule of law.
“The situation is getting worse every day,” he said. “They can only fix the problem in a week or two. After that, the problem will continue. Today, it is Les Cayes. “Tomorrow, it may be somewhere else.”
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.