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. The government increased its oversight capability of the prison, adding two employees to the Comptroller of Prison’s staff.
Physical Conditions: At the end of August, the prison held 1,650 inmates, including 47 women (plus one minor), 79 male juveniles, and 673 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. Authorities also held some prisoners in the maximum-security section 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. Officials housed female juveniles with the adult women.
Authorities held both on remand and convicted male juveniles separate from adult prisoners 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. Three minors escaped from the Wagner Youth Facility in August, and police recaptured two of them.
There were no reported cases of abuse or excessive force by prison officials, although prison officials noted that some prisoners were “roughed up” by police while in transit to the prison. Authorities recorded 93 inmate-on-inmate assaults by the end of August, including two instances where inmates were hospitalized with serious stab wounds. Prison officials noted that most assaults resulted from gang conflicts among the inmates, with more incidents happening in the remand population. There was one death due to complications related to HIV/AIDS and four due to other health concerns, including cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, and anemia. The prison had one full-time doctor, two nurses, and six emergency medical technicians to perform medical referrals to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital. Prison authorities hired a full-time psychologist, and a psychiatrist visited twice a month.
Administration: Prisoner recordkeeping was adequate. Various laws provide authorities the option to use alternative sentencing such as community service for nonviolent offenses, but there were no records for 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. Prisoners could request other religious services, and the prison accommodated special dietary restrictions for prisoners whose faiths required them.
The law authorizes inmates to make complaints to the Ombudsman’s Office through prison authorities, but inmates and their family members tended to submit such complaints directly to the ombudsman and did so without censorship. The Ombudsman’s Office continued to follow up with prison authorities and visited with greater regularity than in previous years.
Independent Monitoring: Prison authorities permitted visits from independent human rights observers, including representatives from the diplomatic community and international and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Improvements: After assuming responsibility for prison operations in 2002, the Kolbe Foundation made significant improvements during the year in security as well as conditions for inmates, including the establishment of rehabilitation and education centers, and it initiated programs to reduce inmate-on-inmate violence, provide HIV/AIDS services, and provide medical care. Kolbe also overhauled training to improve security, address proper treatment of inmates, and minimize petty corruption.
The Labor Commissioner released a formal report after receiving complaints about employment irregularities from some employees and ex-employees of the Kolbe Foundation. As a result of the report, the Kolbe Foundation formalized their disciplinary procedures and hired a new chief of security to investigate officers and incidents and an intelligence officer to seek out irregularities amongst the guards.
During the year the prison operator continued to increase staff training, installed a potable water system, installed security scanners, installed a public address system for educational purposes, formalized its Quick Response Team, and made additional progress separating members of rival gangs.