Last Updated: Thursday, 20 November 2014, 13:54 GMT

Haiti: Information on conditions in Haitian prisons and treatment of criminal deportees

Publisher United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services
Author Resource Information Center
Publication Date 2 July 2001
Citation / Document Symbol HTI01001.ASM
Cite as United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Haiti: Information on conditions in Haitian prisons and treatment of criminal deportees, 2 July 2001, HTI01001.ASM, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3dece9f87.html [accessed 20 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Query:

Are criminal deportees of Haitian origin being incarcerated upon their return to Haiti? What are prison conditions in Haiti in general and for the deportees, specifically? How long is the period of incarceration for deportees?

Response:

According to sources available to the RIC, criminal deportees from the United States face indefinite imprisonment in Haiti under conditions that are extremely harsh and often life-threatening. In February 2001, the US Department of State reported that, "criminal deportees who already have served sentences outside the country are kept in jail, with no timetable for their eventual release" (Feb. 2001).

Between June and December 2000, 351 former convicts were returned to Haiti. Most go directly from the airport to jail in the National Penitentiary or to jails in police stations around Port-au-Prince. The only exceptions are those for whom family or friends are willing to claim responsibility (Ash 7 Dec 2000).

Following the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in September 1994, prison conditions in Haiti underwent a brief period of improvement. However, during President René Préval's administration, curtailed international aid resulted in deteriorating conditions. In March 2000, Amnesty International reported that "overcrowding coupled with outdated facilities and lack of resources has created conditions that are far below the level required by the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and in some instances constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment." By early 2001, Jean-Paul Lupien, a Canadian who consults for the UN Development Program, proclaimed Haitian prisons the worst he has ever seen and in a state of impending crisis (Colon 2 May 2001).

The Miami Herald has reported that inmates in Haitian prisons complain that guards beat them, often with impunity. Citing a study by Lupien, the Herald also reported that prisons and jails don't provide enough food to sustain life, so detainees may slowly starve to death. According to the Herald, "in one month this year [2001], 11 inmates died in the Penitentier National," some from malnutrition and lack of sunlight, the rest from tuberculosis and AIDS (Colon 2 May 2001).

The National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) investigated conditions following an incident that occurred on 10 September 2000, at the National Penitentiary. "CIMO (crowd control unit) officers reportedly ruthlessly manhandled protestors in reprisal for acts of violence they allegedly committed against Penitentiary staff. Since those incidents, the deportees have been victims of discriminatory measures such as the cancellation of visits and recreation. Some have reportedly been placed in isolation" (AHP 30 Oct 2000).

Conditions in detention are extremely unsanitary and crowded, according to Michelle Karshan, a Haitian-based US citizen who is founder and executive director of Chans Alternativ (Alternative Chance), an advocacy organization for returnees:

"A cell approximately 10 ft by 11 ft typically holds 20 people... These holding cells have no toilets and no sinks. Usually those wishing to use a toilet must use a bag to defecate in or they urinate in a communal bucket which stays inside the cell... There is typically no fan available as most police stations have little or no electricity. My estimation is that these cells range in temperature from 80-105 degrees during the day. There is no light provided and in one place I visited the CDs [criminal deportees] are packed in an extremely hot cell which is dark at all times. The CDs are not provided any chairs, beds or mats to sleep on or sit on and are therefore sleeping altogether directly on cement floors... In some of the cells when it rains the cell is flooded and the CDs must get up from the cement floor and use their own clothes to mop up the floor. It is then impossible to sleep given the flooding conditions of the cells... While in these holding cells no food is provided to the CDs and they must depend on a family member to bring them food. Unfortunately, many of the CDs have no relatives in Haiti... While in these holding cells, the CDs are only provided access to tap water. The water is contaminated and is extremely high risk to everyone. Unless boiled for a period of 20 minutes, tap water can typically transmit typhoid fever, hepatitis, parasites, amoebas. The CDs have no possibility to boil water... CDs must wash their clothes (often without soap) and hang them in the cell to dry although there may be no ventilation in the cell. Problems of properly washing clothes contribute to fungus infections or parasite infestations which quickly become open and infected sores... There is no medical care for CDs held in police station holding cells. There are no doctors available to diagnose or treat sick CDs. There is no medicine available to treat CDs in holding cells" (30 Aug 2000).

Michael Lucius, the police official in charge of reviewing returnees, admits that "it may be illegal detention but what can we do? With all the instability and crime here we can't just turn these guys out on the streets with no visible means of support. It's not as if they are choirboys. We've got to protect our own population" (Ash 7 Dec 2000).

Following are some cases of criminal deportees who have been returned. Often unable to speak Creole, with no friends or relatives to provide support, little hope of due process, little or no immunity from Haiti's tropical diseases and parasitic ailments, and forced to endure appalling conditions in jail, they are extraordinarily vulnerable.

--Thomas Christopher O'Toole Sylvain was born in Brooklyn in 1978 to a Haitian father and Irish-American mother. After serving a prison sentence in Florida, he was deported to Haiti. Though he had proclaimed his status as a US citizen and had shown his passport and birth certificate to immigration officials as proof of citizenship, the INS contended the birth certificate and US passport had been altered and he was deported. After just a month in Haiti, he became seriously ill. Following a lot of negative publicity in the Miami Herald and the intervention of two members of Congress, Sylvain was allowed to return to the US, where he died in July 1999 shortly after his arrival (Colon 4 May 1999, 16 July 1999).

-- Ernest Rampanal, Jr., a 26-year-old from Brooklyn, was sent back to Haiti after completing an eight-year sentence for drug dealing. Upon arrival in July 2000, he was placed in a 10'x10' cell in the anti-gang unit of police headquarters in downtown Port-au-Prince. The cell holds between one and three dozen inmates, and reeks of urine and excrement (Ash 7 Dec 2000).

--Claudette Etienne, 44, fled Haiti more than two decades ago to escape the terror of the Tontons Macoutes under dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier. As a legal resident in Florida, she picked fruit and sold jewelry. She had two sons, Bepe (8) and Williams (7), both US citizens, by her common-law husband. After an undercover police officer apprehended her for selling him cocaine, she was found guilty and sentenced to a year's probation, so that she could continue to care for her children and husband. Instead, she was placed in INS detention centers, from which she wrote "Please reconsider my custody situation. I am still with my husband and we are still in love. Our 2 children...are here in Miami and living with him. He works...and they attend...elementary school in Miami...The drug crime was because I needed the money for my children. I made some bad mistakes and I won't do them again. I'm sorry. Please reconsider my custody. I miss my children terribly." She was deported in September 2000. Upon arrival in Port-au-Prince, she was assigned to a police holding cell in the Delmas 62 police station. Forced to sleep on a cold cement floor and having to drink tap water containing parasites to which she had lost immunity, she became ill with diarrhea. She died shortly after transfer to a hospital on September 10 (Delt 27 Sept 2000).

--Joseph Mondestin moved to the United States when he was one year old. He spent the next 41 years in the US, growing up in a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC. Following a drug conviction, he spent six months in jail before being turned over to the INS and deported to Haiti, where he was assigned to an anti-gang holding cell. For Mondestin, who has no memory of Haiti and does not speak the language, Haiti is in effect an alien country (Wardenburg-Ferdinand 20 Sept 2000).

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.

References:

AHP. "Haitian Human Rights Group Protests Treatment of Deportees" (Port-au-Prince, 30 October 2000) - as reported by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS).

Amnesty International. HAITI: UNFINISHED BUSINESS: JUSTICE AND LIBERTIES AT RISK (New York: March 2000), p. 18.

Ash, Lucy. "Criminals, Go Home," THE TIMES (London: 7 December 2000) - as reported on Nexis.

Colon, Yves. "Haiti's Prisons Resemble the Gate of Hell for Inmates," MIAMI HERALD (Miami: 2 May 2001).

Colon, Yves. "Sylvain, Deported by Mistake, Dies; U.S.-Born Man's Health Deteriorated while in Haiti," MIAMI HERALD (Miami: 16 July 1999)

Colon, Yves. "Deported Citizen-Claimant Remains Very Ill in Haiti," MIAMI HERALD (Miami: 4 May 1999).

Delt, Mara. "Mother of Two, Deported to Haiti, Dies in Haitian Jail," HAITI PROGRES (Port-au-Prince: Vol. 18, No. 28, 27 September 2000). [Internet] URL: www.haiti-progres.com/XENG0927.htm.

Karshan, Michelle. Letter to Olivia Cassin, Staff Attorney, The Legal Aid Society, 90 Church Street, New York, 30 August 2000.

US Department of State. "Haiti," COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 2000 (Washington, DC: February 2001). [Internet] URL: www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2000/wha/index.cfm?docid=795. Accessed 1 March 2001.

Wardenburg-Ferdinand, Anna. "Haitians Are Jailed in Haiti after Serving Sentence in the U.S.," THE HAITIAN TIMES (Port-au-Prince: 20-26 September 2000).

Attachments:

AHP. "Haitian Human Rights Group Protests Treatment of Deportees" (Port-au-Prince, 30 October 2000) - as reported by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS).

Ash, Lucy. "Criminals, Go Home," THE TIMES (London: 7 December 2000) - as reported on Nexis.

Colon, Yves. "Haiti's Prisons Resemble the Gate of Hell for Inmates," MIAMI HERALD (Miami: 2 May 2001).

Colon, Yves. "Sylvain, Deported by Mistake, Dies; U.S.-Born Man's Health Deteriorated while in Haiti," MIAMI HERALD (Miami: 16 July 1999)

Colon, Yves. "Deported Citizen-Claimant Remains Very Ill in Haiti," MIAMI HERALD (Miami: 4 May 1999).

Delt, Mara. "Mother of Two, Deported to Haiti, Dies in Haitian Jail," HAITI PROGRES (Port-au-Prince: Vol. 18, No. 28, 27 September 2000). [Internet] URL: www.haiti-progres.com/XENG0927.htm.

Karshan, Michelle. Letter to Olivia Cassin, Staff Attorney, The Legal Aid Society, 90 Church Street, New York, 30 August 2000.

Wardenburg-Ferdinand, Anna. "Haitians Are Jailed in Haiti after Serving Sentence in the U.S.," THE HAITIAN TIMES (Port-au-Prince: 20-26 September 2000).

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