Despite significant improvements over the last several years, prison conditions did not meet all international standards. A local nonprofit organization administered Belize Central Prison, the country’s only prison, but the government retained oversight and monitoring responsibility.
Physical Conditions: At the end of December the prison held 1,562 inmates, including 42 women, 68 juveniles, and 531 on remand. Prison capacity was approximately 1,750.
The regular prison population lived in cells accommodating approximately four to six persons. Prisoners on remand lived in a facility with approximately three to four persons per cell. Some prisoners in the maximum-security section also were held in the remand facility, usually with only one inmate per cell. Prison officials used isolation in a small, unlit, unventilated punishment cell, called a “reflection room,” to discipline inmates in the youth section. Inmates had access to potable water.
Prison officials held women and men in separate facilities. The women’s facility was located 200 yards outside the main compound. Conditions in the women’s area were significantly better than in the men’s compound. There were no female juveniles housed in the Belize Central Prison during the year.
Authorities held male juveniles, both on remand and convicted, separately in two dormitories at the Wagner Youth Facility within the prison compound. Courts had convicted a quarter of the youth of major crimes, including murder, and many were gang members.
There were no reported cases of abuse or excessive force by prison officials. There were approximately two to three major incidents of inmate-on-inmate violence per month, including an instance where two inmates were hospitalized with serious stabbing wounds. The prison authority indicated that nearly every day there were fights requiring minor medical care, which was provided on site. There were eight deaths due to HIV/AIDS.
Administration: Prison record keeping was adequate. Various laws provide authorities the option to use alternative sentencing such as community service for nonviolent offenses, but there were no records as to how often magistrates chose to use this option. Inmates had daily access to visitors and the government did not restrict religious observance. A full-time chaplain coordinated visits by ministers from different denominations. The prison had a hall where church services took place.
The Ombudsman Act authorizes inmates to make complaints to the Ombudsman’s Office through prison authorities; however, inmates and their family members tended to submit such complaints directly to the ombudsman and did so without censorship. The office received five complaints as of September 4, including allegations about solitary confinement and allowing police access to beat an inmate. The Ombudsman’s Office continued to follow up with prison authorities.
Monitoring: Prison authorities permitted visits from independent human rights observers.
Improvements: After assuming responsibility for prison operations in 2002, the Kolbe Foundation began making significant improvements in security as well as conditions for inmates. The Kolbe Foundation built rehabilitation and education centers and initiated programs to reduce inmate-on-inmate violence, provide HIV/AIDS services, and furnish consistent medical care. Kolbe also overhauled training to improve security, address proper treatment of inmates, and minimize petty corruption. During the year the prison operator continued to increase staff training, distributed uniforms to prisoners and guards, and made additional progress separating members of rival gangs. Authorities also seized 10 pounds of marijuana, 182 cell phones, 15 buckets of wine, BZ$4,692 ($2,346) and 97 handmade weapons in the prison.