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The U.S. prison industrial model is heading to Haiti. The U.S. government intends to build two prisons in Haiti in an effort to control severe overcrowding, disease transmission and violence in one of the world’s poorest countries. Even though Haiti is a free market society, which enjoys the advantages of low cost, cheap labor and tariff-free access to the US for many of its exports, poverty, corruption and poor access to education remain a most serious problem in the Caribbean nation.
According to Carl Siebentritt, director of the Narcotics Affairs Section at the U.S. Embassy, “Prisons are so overcrowded that detainees are held in temporary holding cells at police stations. By constructing new prisons that are consistent with international human rights standards, the [U.S. State] Department seeks to alleviate this overcrowding and to reduce the spread of disease and violence.”
The prison facilities will be built in each of the coastal towns of Petit Goave and Cabaret. The Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs estimates that the project will cost somewhere between $5million and $10million. Contract bids are due in early March and are part of a larger effort in Haiti to clean up and improve their prison system, which have been described as some the world’s worst. With stark overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, inmates often take turns sleeping at night because of lack of space in the environment.
Dr. John May, a South Florida physician who co-founded a nonprofit that seeks to improve health conditions in prisons worldwide, made a medical trip last fall to the police station in Petit Goave where he witnessed 128 inmates locked up in a holding cell with no beds or running water. Many of the convicted suffered from scabies, malnutrition, mental illness and high blood pressure. “I’m very grateful some assistance is being delivered to the prison program,” May said. “Prisoners are often forgotten.”
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