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, difficulty staffing 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 25,500 prisoners held in 37 prisons with an overall intended capacity of 14,656. The inmate population continued to increase, nearly doubling since 2006. Of the 37 prisons, 19 were traditional facilities, 17 were newer “model prisons” known as Correctional and Rehabilitation Centers (CRCs), and one prison held minors. In addition there were five Palaces of Justice to house temporary detainees. The CRCs held 9,546 prisoners with an intended capacity of 8,827. Virtually all prisons and detention centers were overcrowded; the CRCs operated slightly over maximum capacity. La Victoria prison, for example, which is the largest and most overcrowded prison in the country, held 7,666 prisoners in a facility designed for less than 2,011 prisoners. Najayo men’s prison, the second largest in the country, was built for 950 prisoners and held more than 2,500 prisoners.
Traditional prisons were all segregated, except for La Romana prison. Prisoners in the CRCs were all divided by gender, and there were separate standing structures at the prisons of Najayo, Bani, and Rafey for female prisoners. As of November there were approximately 667 female prisoners. Of the inmate population in the CRCs, 9,081 were male and 465 were female. Police officers and former military members convicted of criminal activity were held in special sections of the prisons or the Palaces of Justice. Pretrial and sick inmates, however, were not separated from other inmates. Only two prisons housed on-site hospitals.
Overcrowding and communicable disease were serious problems. Most reported deaths were related to illnesses, including tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. According to the Directorate of Prisons, as of October, 49 prisoners died in correctional facilities.
Health and sanitary conditions were generally poor, and prisons generally did not provide adequate medical care to inmates. The frequency of illness amongst prisoners continued to rise due to overcrowding. Common illnesses included cold, flu, bronchitis, upper respiratory infections, intestinal illnesses, gastroenteritis, skin infections, parasites, tuberculosis, hepatitis, diabetes, hypertension, 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 were a problem. Many inmates could not attend their monthly appointments.
According to the director of the CRCs, most of the 17 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 to change penalties to house arrest.
According to the director general of prisons, inmates received three meals per day, but 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. No deaths were attributed to abuses by prison guards.
Some prisons were effectively out of the control of authorities, and there were 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 civilian prison guards maintained control of prison areas.
On June 30, Wady Encarnacion, an inmate in La Fortaleza prison in El Seibo, violently raped a 16-year-old girl who visited the prison with a minister to distribute religious material. The victim suffered severe vaginal tearing and bruising and loss of blood. District Attorney Henry Estevez began an investigation into the case.
On September 30, the press reported that police fired weapons to restore order at the San Pedro de Macoris prison, injuring five persons. Two of the injured inmates were admitted to the local hospital. On the same day, a security officer shot and killed an inmate as he attempted to escape La Victoria prison.
Although the law states that prisoners must be separated according to the severity of the criminal offense, authorities did not have the capability to do so. According to estimates from the Directorate of Prisons, 47 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 juvenile facilities, although the press reported that some juveniles were being held in regular prisons.
In the case of the CRCs, some prisoners with mental disabilities were separated and received treatment, including therapy, for their illnesses. There were no efforts to provide services to prisoners with mental disabilities in traditional prisons.
Administration: Recordkeeping in prisons was inadequate, primarily due to lack of resources. The director general of prisons acknowledged this problem and took steps to improve recordkeeping practices during the year. Authorities used alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders; however, information regarding specific laws, executive orders, and accurate statistics were not available.
Although there was 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 assisted with certain complaints. Some complaints were referred to the Directorate of Prisons.
Prisoners could observe their religious practices and had access to visitors, but visitors often had to bribe prison guards to visit prisoners. Inmates were allowed conjugal visits, and female prisoners who gave birth while incarcerated were permitted to keep their babies with them for up to a year. Some CRCs provided a recreational area for inmates’ babies. 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.
The CRC program served as a rehabilitation center to prepare detainees for an eventual return to their communities. The CRCs provided educational, labor, and artistic opportunities to rehabilitate detainees in a setting of respect and discipline. In the Najayo CRC, the administration partnered with a local technical university to provide inmates with morning classes five day a week. These classes ranged from primary to high school level.
In contrast to traditional prisons, model prisons were run entirely by trained civilian guards, were not overcrowded, and generally met the basic nutritional needs of inmates. In traditional prisons, although a warden who reported to the attorney general was technically responsible for running each prison, 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.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits and monitoring 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. With the transfer of inmates from traditional to model prisons, the number of prisoners in the CRCs rose by more than 4,000. The government expanded its September 2012 survey at La Romana prison to include all prisons, with the goal of obtaining statistics to separate inmates by severity of crime and sentence.