Prison conditions ranged from fair to extremely harsh. Threats to life and health included communicable diseases, poor sanitation, poor access to health services, a lack of well-trained prison guards, and prisoners brutalizing other inmates. These problems were exacerbated by severe overcrowding, problems staffing the prisons due to the risk of contracting infectious diseases, and a lack of capacity to segregate tens of thousands of pretrial prisoners as well as inmates with communicable diseases from the general population.
Physical Conditions: As of October, there were approximately 23,300 prisoners held in 42 detention centers with an overall intended capacity of only 11,505. The inmate population nearly doubled in the past six years. Of the 42 detention centers, 22 were traditional prisons, 13 were newer “model prisons” known as Correctional and Rehabilitation Centers (CRCs), and seven were Palaces of Justice intended to house temporary detainees. The CRCs held 5,200 prisoners, which was 22 percent of the total prison population. Virtually all prisons experienced overcrowding, with the exception of the CRCs.
There were approximately 700 female prisoners, or 3 percent of the inmate population. According to a 2010-11 national prison census, prisoners in the traditional prisons of Montecristi and La Romana were not segregated by gender. In contrast, prisoners in the CRCs were segregated by gender. There were separate structures at the prisons of Najayo, Bani, and Rafey exclusively for female prisoners. According to the Directorate of Prisons, however, there were eight prisons holding female inmates, and female prisoners were segregated in all cases. Police officers convicted of criminal activity were held in special sections of the prisons or the Palaces of Justice. Pretrial and sick inmates were not separated from other inmates. Only two prisons had on-site hospitals.
The Directorate of Prisons reported that overcrowding and communicable disease presented the most critical problems. La Victoria prison, for example, which is the largest and most overcrowded prison in the country, held 6,300 prisoners in a facility designed for less than 2,000 prisoners. Najayo men’s prison, the second largest in the country, was built for 950 prisoners and held more than 2,500 prisoners. Most reported deaths were related to illnesses including tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. According to the government’s most recent figures, 67 prisoners died in correctional facilities in 2011, compared with 72 deaths in 2010.
Health and sanitary conditions were generally poor, and prisons generally did not provide adequate medical care to inmates. Rates of illness among prisoners rose due to the growing problem of overcrowding. Common illnesses included cold, flu, bronchitis, upper-respiratory infections, intestinal illnesses, skin infections, parasites, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and HIV/AIDS. According to the Directorate for the Control of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV/AIDS, 9 percent of the prison population was HIV/AIDS positive. Nonetheless, only two prisons in the system provided on-site HIV/AIDS treatment and care services. Other prisons reportedly took HIV/AIDS patients to the provincial hospitals once a month to receive medication and follow-up care. Efficient logistics and timely transportation to and from the hospitals was a problem. Many inmates could not attend their monthly appointments.
According to the director of the CRCs, most of the 13 model prisons had inmates with HIV/AIDS, and all provided HIV/AIDS treatment and care services to those inmates. Inmates in the model prisons who had severe cases of HIV/AIDS or terminal illnesses were transferred to hospitals temporarily and often benefitted from requests made to change penalties to house arrest.
According to the Directorate of Prisons, a sufficient amount of food was provided to the prisons for each inmate. However, many inmates in traditional prisons reportedly purchased food from persons in the vicinity of the prison, obtained it from family members, or resorted to begging.
Reports of mistreatment and violence in prisons were common, as were reports of harassment, extortion, and inappropriate searches of prison visitors. However, no deaths were attributed to abuses by prison guards. Some prisons were effectively out of the control of authorities. There were continued allegations of drug and arms trafficking, prostitution, and sexual abuse within prisons. A common sentiment among prison wardens at traditional prisons was that while the wardens may control the perimeter, inmates often ruled the inside with their own rules and system of justice. In general this situation differed from the CRCs, where specialized prison guards increased control of prison areas.
Although the law states that prisoners must be separated according to the severity of the criminal offense, authorities did not have the capacity to do so. According to estimates from the Directorate of Prisons, 65 percent of prisoners were in pretrial or preventive custody. The law states that the pretrial waiting period should not exceed three months, but it can be extended up to 18 months in certain complex cases.
Juveniles were processed using specialized juvenile courts and generally were held in one of seven juvenile facilities, although the press reported that some juveniles were being held in regular prisons.
In the case of the CRCs, some mentally ill prisoners were separated and received treatment, including therapy, for their illnesses. In contrast, there were no efforts to segregate and provide services to mentally ill prisoners in the traditional prisons.
Administration: The CRC program was created to address the fact that most detainees will eventually return to their communities, and thus the CRCs should serve to prepare them for a second opportunity in life. The CRCs strove to provide educational, labor, and artistic opportunities necessary to rehabilitate detainees in a setting of respect and discipline. In contrast to the traditional prisons, the model prisons were run entirely by trained civilian guards, were not overcrowded, and generally met the basic nutritional needs of inmates. In the traditional prisons, although a warden who reported to the attorney general was technically responsible for running each prison, in practice police or military officers (generally appointed for a period of only three to six months and responsible for providing security) were usually in charge. According to the Directorate of Prisons, military and police personnel guarded traditional prisons, while a trained civilian guard corps provided security at the CRCs.
Recordkeeping in prisons was inadequate. The director of prisons acknowledged this problem and took steps to improve recordkeeping practices during the year. However, the Directorate of Prisons was limited regarding improvements in recordkeeping due to scarcity of resources. Authorities used alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders; however, information regarding specific laws, executive orders, and accurate statistics were not available.
Prisoners had access to visitors and could observe religious practices. Inmates were allowed conjugal visits, and female prisoners who gave birth while incarcerated could keep their babies with them for up to a year. However, visitors frequently had to bribe prison guards to visit prisoners, and prisoners were often not taken to their trials unless they paid bribes to the guards. Similarly, detainees had to pay bribes to be allowed to attend vocational training offered at some facilities. Prison officials accepted money in exchange for a recommendation that a prisoner be furloughed or released for health reasons. There were credible allegations that prisoners could obtain early release on parole for a bribe.
Although there is no specific prison ombudsman, prisoners could submit complaints about their treatment verbally or in writing, and most often did so through family members, lawyers, or human rights defenders. Public defenders also provided legal services to prisoners and in some cases they assisted with certain complaints. In some cases, complaints were referred to the Directorate of Prisons.
Monitoring: The government permitted visits and monitoring in accordance with standard modalities by independent nongovernmental observers and the media.
Improvements: The government made advances with newer CRCs, where prisoners experienced slightly improved conditions in comparison with other facilities. The number of prisoners in the CRCs rose by more than 1,000. In September the director of prisons initiated a new program, focused on La Romana Prison, designed to survey the prison populations with the aim of segregating pretrial and sick inmates from the general population.