PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — An official said Thursday that at least eight inmates have 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 crumble.
Hunger and sweltering heat contributed to inmate deaths reported this week by the prison in the southwestern city of Les Cayes, Ronald Richemond, the city’s government commissioner, told The Associated Press. He said the prison houses 833 inmates.
“Anyone who can help must 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 prison linked to malnutrition were documented in Haiti between January and April alone in the country of more than 11 million people.
He urged the Haitian government “to take the necessary steps to find a lasting solution to the food, water and medicine crisis in prisons.”
The country’s overcrowded prison system has long struggled to provide food and water to inmates. He blames insufficient public 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 inmates with water and two meals a day, which usually consist of porridge and a bowl of rice with fish or some type of meat.
But in recent months, detainees have been forced to rely solely on friends or family for food and water, and often cannot go because gang-related violence makes some areas impassable, a said Michelle Karshan, co-founder of the nonprofit Health through Walls, which provides health care in Haiti’s prisons.
The nonprofit joined three other organizations this year to feed the nearly 11,000 inmates in Haiti’s 20 prisons for three months, helping at a time when the country was increasingly unstable following the murder of President Jovenel. Moses on July 7.
But the situation has since deteriorated.
“These deaths are very painful,” she said. “The internal organs begin to fail one by one. … It’s a horrible thing to see.
Health through Walls has launched several programs to target the long-term problem, including the creation of a garden in a prison in northern Haiti that produces spinach and other crops, as well as a chicken coop and a fish farm.
“But it’s a prison,” Karshan said. “The main thing is that the prison system must assume its responsibilities. They can’t sit still. … They are the government.
Les Cayes and other towns in the southern region of Haiti have also been affected by an outbreak of gang violence that has blocked major roads leading to the Haitian capital, making it extremely difficult to distribute food and other supplies to the rest of the country,” said Pierre Espérance, executive director of Haiti’s National Human Rights Defense Network.
In addition, a water pump that the prison in Les Cayes relies on has long broken down, forcing relatives and friends of inmates to carry buckets of water long distances, Richemond said.
Les Cayes, like surrounding towns, is also struggling to recover from a 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck southwestern Haiti in August, killing more than 2,200 people and destroying or damaging buildings. thousands of buildings.
Richemond said some of the prison cells were destroyed and not rebuilt, forcing authorities to cram even more people into a smaller space.
Cell occupancy in Haiti stands at more than 280% of capacity, with 83% of detainees stuck in pretrial detentions that in some cases can drag on for more than a decade before a first court appearance, UN says Many prisoners take turns sleeping on the floor while others simply stand or try to make hammocks and tie them to cell windows, paying someone to hold their place .
In January 2010, some 400 inmates in Les Cayes prison rioted to protest against worsening conditions. Authorities said police killed at least 12 detainees and up to 40 others were injured.
Espérance, with the National Human Rights Network, blamed the current situation on the government and said officials must enforce the rule of law.
“The situation is getting worse day by day,” he said. “They can only solve the problem for one or two weeks. After that, the problem will persist. Today is Les Cayes. Tomorrow, it could be somewhere else.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.