We have been hard at work in Port-au-Prince and environs for the past three days. It has been an extremely successful trip so far. We are in Haiti to help a group of extraordinarily dedicated human rights lawyers and doctors in their innovative program for addressing the problem of excessive pre-trial detention in Haiti’s jails.
In our interviews so far, many of our worst fears about the problem were confirmed. The vast majority of people detained in Prisons in Haiti — as much as 80-90% — have not been convicted at trial. Furthermore, corruption is widespread in the courts. Imagine if a loved one was arrested for something and a judge said that he would never schedule a trial unless you paid him $5000. This means that the person, innocent or not, or perhaps guilty of some trivial crime, would be locked up indefinitlely unless you paid this bribe.
One judge told us several haunting stories, including one about a man who was in prison for 10 years without a trial — when the judge tried to move the case forward, he was unable to because the court had simply misplaced his case file! I can actually accurately use the word “Kafka-esque” to describe this. Perhaps most disturbingly, he told us that he sometimes sees defendants in his court with swollen feet. He explained that this is because the prisoners are packed so tightly into cells that they cannot lie down to sleep — they simply stand all night. He said that he often has trouble convicting someone of a minor crime because, given health confitions in the prisons, it might be a death sentence.
We have been getting these stories and others on video, to help in the effort to fix this miserable state of affairs.
Tomorrow, we head up to countryside to visit three prisons. I will update more when we return. In the meantime, a couple of pictures of our team (myself, our producer Dan Ramirez, and lawyers, Brian Concannon and Mario Joseph) in Port-au-Prince.