Prison conditions continued to be harsh. Prison cells lacked adequate water, sanitation, space, light, ventilation, and temperature control. Although the state provided basic feeding and medical care, many prisoners relied on family parcels for food and other basic supplies. Potable water was frequently unavailable. Prison cells were overcrowded, requiring prisoners to sleep on the floor and limiting freedom of movement during the day. Prisoners often slept on concrete bunks without a mattress, with some reports of more than one person sharing a narrow bunk. Where available, mattresses were thin and often infested with vermin. Inmates reported the frequent presence of rats, cockroaches, fleas, lice, bedbugs, stinging ants, flies, and mosquitoes. Prisoners reported that they lacked access to basic and emergency medical care, including dental care. Prisoners engaged in hunger strikes throughout the year to demand medical treatment.
Prisoners, family members, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported inadequate health care, which led to or aggravated multiple maladies. Prisoners also reported outbreaks of dengue, tuberculosis, and hepatitis. Prison health workers often reused syringes, despite the existence of communicable diseases among inmates.
There were multiple reports of prison deaths from heart attacks, asthma attacks, HIV/AIDS, and other chronic medical conditions, as well as from suicide.
The government did not publish the number of prisoners or detainees, nor did it provide information regarding the number or location of detention centers, which included not only prisons but also work camps and other kinds of detention facilities.
Estimates from unofficial sources of the prison and detention center population size varied widely, from as low as 30,000 to as high as 80,000. On December 23, President Castro announced that he would commute the sentences of more than 2,900 convicts. The authorities released these prisoners into their communities before year’s end.
Men and women were held in separate prisons and police detention facilities. Generally, women reported suffering the same poor prison conditions as men, including lack of access to basic and emergency medical care. Women also reported lack of access to feminine hygiene products and adequate prenatal care. The government did not release information on the treatment of minors at either youth or adult prisons or detention centers. There were reports of inmates as young as 15 in maximum-security prisons.
Political prisoners and the general prison population were kept in similar conditions. By refusing to wear standard prison uniforms, political prisoners frequently were denied certain privileges such as access to prison libraries and standard reductions in the severity of their sentence (for example, being transferred from a maximum-security to a medium-security prison or work camp). The government sometimes placed healthy prisoners in cells with mentally disturbed inmates. Political prisoners also reported being threatened or harassed by fellow inmates whom they thought were acting on orders of prison authorities.
Prisoners reported that solitary confinement was a common punishment for misconduct and that some had been held in isolation for months or even years at a time. After his release in March, Jose Daniel Ferrer reported that he was kept in solitary confinement for most of his almost eight years in jail. In general prisoners in isolation had restrictions on family visits.
Prisoners and pretrial detainees had access to visitors, although some political prisoners’ relatives reported that prison officials arbitrarily canceled scheduled visits.
Prisoners were permitted limited religious observance. Both the Catholic Church and the Cuban Council of Churches reported improved access to prisoners during the year, with services offered in prisons and detention centers in most if not all provinces. There were isolated reports that prison authorities did not inform inmates of their right to religious assistance, delayed months before responding to such requests, and limited visits to a maximum of two or three times per year.
By law prisoners and detainees may seek redress regarding prison conditions and procedural violations, such as continued incarceration after their prison sentence has expired. Prisoners reported that in practice government officials often refused to allow or accept complaints, or failed to respond to the complaints once submitted. However, the family of a political prisoner reported that central authorities resolved their complaints regarding prison living conditions after local authorities failed to do so. In another case, central government authorities instructed the local prison to stop denying privileges to a political prisoner who refused to wear the prison uniform. It was not clear whether the government investigated or monitored allegations of inhumane conditions. If investigations occurred, the results were not publicly accessible.
The government did not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions by international or national human rights groups and did not permit access to detainees by international humanitarian organizations. Despite its 2009 offer to permit a visit by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment, the government failed to make good on its offer during the year.