While prison conditions ranged from fair to extremely harsh, the government made advances with newer “model prisons” known as Correctional and Rehabilitation Centers (CRCs) where prisoners experienced improved conditions in comparison with other facilities. The CRC program had 14 model prisons, based on the concept 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, which held 19 percent of all prisoners, 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 met the basic nutritional needs of inmates.
According to the director of prisons, per capita expenditure for CRC prisoners was three times more than that spent in conventional prisons. However, this improvement for some prisoners came at the expense of others in the system, because when a facility was converted to a model prison, excess or dangerous inmates were transferred to other locations, increasing the strain on the already overcrowded prison system.
According to the Directorate of Prisons, there were 21,610 prisoners and detainees--of whom 604 were female--held in 41 prisons, with an intended capacity of 11,055. Of the 41 prisons, 27 were traditional prisons and 14 were model prisons. The new CRCs held 4,208 of these prisoners. Virtually all prisons, other than the CRCs, experienced extreme overcrowding. La Victoria prison, the largest in the country, held 5,390 prisoners in a facility designed for 2,000. Najayo men’s prison, the second largest in the country, was built for 950 prisoners and held 2,893 prisoners. La Romana appeared to be the most overcrowded prison, holding 719 inmates in a prison with an intended capacity of 91. Air circulation was a problem, and the danger of a fire was high.
Reports of mistreatment and inmate violence in prisons were common, as were reports of harassment, extortion, and inappropriate searches of prison visitors. Health and sanitary conditions were poor, and some prisons effectively were out of the control of authorities and run by criminal gangs of armed inmates. A common sentiment among prison wardens at conventional 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. The attorney general, who oversaw the model prisons, reported that the incidence of corruption within the CRCs remained minimal.
Most inmates in conventional prisons begged for or purchased food from persons in the vicinity of the prison or obtained it from family members. However, the Director of Prisons indicated that a sufficient amount of food was provided to the prisons for each inmate, but in most prisons it was served earlier than the prisoners were accustomed to eating. Prisoners often were not taken to their trials unless they paid bribes to the guards, and visitors frequently had to bribe prison guards in order to visit prisoners. 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.
Conventional prisons often did not provide adequate medical care to inmates. According to the Directorate for the Control of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV/AIDS, only three prisons in the system provided HIV/AIDS treatment and care services as of June 2010. However, according to the director of the CRCs, out of the 14 model prisons, 13 had inmates with HIV/AIDS and all 13 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.
No information was available about prisoner deaths during the year. In 2010 none of the reported prisoner deaths was attributed to guards and most were related to various illnesses, including tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
Although a warden who reports 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 of most conventional prisons. In 2010, approximately 80 percent of prison guards were military or police officers rather than civilian correctional officers, who were employed exclusively at the CRCs.
There were continued allegations of drug and arms trafficking, prostitution, and sexual abuse within prisons. There continued to be special sections within prisons where police officers convicted of criminal activity, including a few known human rights abusers, were held.
Female inmates generally were separated from male inmates. Half of all female inmates were held in prisons only for women, and three of the 14 CRCs were female-only. Conditions in the prison wings for women generally were better than those for men. Female inmates were allowed conjugal visits, and those who gave birth while incarcerated were permitted to keep their babies with them for up to a year.
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.
Although the law states that prisoners must be separated according to the severity of the criminal offense, in general authorities did not attempt to do so. Pretrial detainees were held together with convicted prisoners in most cases, although in the CRCs convicted felons were separated from those in preventive custody. The number of prisoners in preventive custody was difficult to verify, as many prisoners were still considered to be in preventive custody after an initial conviction because they were awaiting an appeal. 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.
There were also insufficient efforts to segregate and provide services to mentally ill prisoners, except in the case of the CRCs in which the mentally ill were separated and received medical treatment, including therapy, for their illnesses.
Prisoners had access to visitors and were permitted religious observance. Prisoners could submit complaints about their treatment verbally or in writing, and most often did so through family members, lawyers, or human rights defenders. Complaints were referred to the prison director and, if necessary, to the Directorate of Prisons. Contrary to prior reports, NGOs indicated that representatives from district attorney offices rarely visited the prisons.
The government permitted prison visits by independent human rights observers and the media, and such visits took place during the year.