Prison conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening. Problems included overcrowding, use of police stations as detention facilities, and lack of prison guards.
Physical Conditions: Problems included overcrowding; lack of medical services; lack of potable water; and inadequate ventilation, lighting, and sewage. Prison capacity increased as new pavilions were built to hold close to 1,000 inmates. As of December the prison system had an intended capacity of 8,334 persons but held 14,605 prisoners (13,579 male inmates and 1,026 female). In an effort to alleviate overcrowding, the government during the year released 922 inmates who had completed two-thirds of their sentences.
Men and women, and juveniles and adults, were held separately. Pretrial detainees shared cells with convicted prisoners due to space constraints, but prison authorities began to separate the two groups. As of November, 42 percent of pretrial detainees were separated from convicted prisoners. Although prison conditions for women were generally better than those for men, both populations remained overcrowded, with poor medical care and lack of basic supplies for personal hygiene. Juvenile pretrial and custodial detention centers also suffered from overcrowding and poor conditions. Inmates had inadequate education and supervision. In all prisons inmates complained of limited time outside cells and limited access for family members. Small jails attached to local police stations sometimes held prisoners for days or weeks, and police officers who guarded them lacked the necessary custodial training to prevent abuses.
In February the government opened a new 12- million-balboa ($12 million) juvenile rehabilitation center in the Pacora community that can hold up to 194 inmates. The center included a medical center with one full-time doctor and a registered nurse. The new center experienced setbacks, however. In June, 24 inmates escaped due to malfunctioning cell locks; 23 of the inmates were detained and returned to the center. The escape revealed construction defects in the facility, and the minister of government gave the responsible contractor three months to fix them. At year’s end the facility was in full working order with a complete security video camera network and potable water and sewage system. In July the Ombudsman’s Office inspected the center and found that it had reasonable sanitary conditions, but the lack of public transportation in the area made it difficult for relatives to visit inmates. Legal provisions governing juvenile rehabilitation prohibit placing unsentenced pretrial inmates into the Pacora population. In December there were 77 inmates at the Pacora facility and 153 at the nearby Arco Iris pretrial detention facility in Tocumen.
Prison medical care was inadequate due to lack of personnel and medical resources. Although the Ministry of Health loaned 19 physicians to the prison system, prison medical facilities operated only 12 hours a day. Clinics within La Joya and La Joyita prisons provided first-aid assistance but lacked the capacity to attend to more serious medical problems. La Joyita had a 60-bed clinic, but it remained underutilized due to the lack of guards to watch ill detainees. In many cases authorities transferred patients to public clinics instead. However, there were often difficulties arranging for transportation of the inmates to public clinics. HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases were common among the prison population.
As of November nine inmates were killed in inmate-upon-inmate violence in prisons, four died of chronic illnesses, and four died of natural causes.
As of July, 2,764 inmates were enrolled in education programs inside the prison, three inmates attended schools outside the prisons, 792 inmates received labor training, 152 inmates provided community service, and 1,173 inmates worked inside the prisons. The system continued to apply the “2x1” reduction in time served (one day reduced for each two days of work or study).
Administration: The Ministry of Government oversees all prisons in the country through the National Directorate of the Penitentiary System (DGSP). An interagency commission created in 2011 to review protocols and standard operating procedures within the penitentiary system agreed to a four-stage plan for replacing police officers with civilian prison guards for internal security in most prisons. In September transfer of responsibilities for internal security was completed for most prisons, and civilian custodians took over in all but La Joya, La Joyita, and Nueva Esperanza prisons, which are the three largest in the country. The PNP controlled perimeter security for all prisons.
The law governing the penitentiary system does not address promotion by meritocracy and lacks a career development plan as well as a salary scale. During the year several prison directors and custodians left the system to take better paid jobs. By the end of August, the DGSP fired 19 custodians for corruption or abuse of authority. In April the Second Criminal Court called 12 persons (nine police, two civilian custodians, and the Juvenile Center director) to trial over a 2011 fire in the juvenile detention center, but no date had been set for the first hearing by the end of the year.
Prison record keeping was inadequate, but the government was updating its software in order to address this. Judges may order probation as an alternative to sentencing for nonviolent juvenile offenders. Judges placed more than 300 nonviolent juvenile offenders on probation, which requires psychological counseling, regular school attendance, and regular meetings with a social worker. The new accusatory justice system, now active in four provinces, includes provisions for plea bargaining and thus reduces imprisonment of nonviolent adult offenders (see section 1.e.).
The government started a pilot program for electronic monitoring, but only for nonviolent pretrial inmates. Only 35 inmates participated in the program, a decrease from 45 in 2011. A lack of familiarity with the program among prosecutors, judges, and inmates prevented further use of electronic monitoring. In August the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) conducted a feasibility study for bracelet use under the new accusatory judicial system to determine the feasibility of expanding their use.
Prisoners could submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship and request investigation of credible allegations of inhumane conditions, but authorities did not document the results of such investigations in a publicly accessible manner. The Ombudsman’s Office negotiated and petitioned on behalf of prisoners and received complaints about prison conditions. The Ombudsman’s Office also conducted weekly prison visits, and the government generally did not monitor its meetings with prisoners. As of September the Ombudsman had received 25 complaints of physical abuse committed by PNP agents, but there was no information on how many complaints were made by or on behalf of inmates.
Prisoners at most facilities had reasonable access to visitors and could observe their religious practices. The Catholic NGO Justice and Peace made regular visits and reported unobstructed access by various church groups of different faiths. In September penitentiary authorities reduced prison access for religious groups to a maximum of two religious representatives at a time. Religious organizations were also required to submit an annual action plan to justify access to prisoners. The change came as a result of multiple instances of dubiously linked religious representatives smuggling contraband into the prisons. The Ombudsman’s Office and the Ecumenical Council of Churches concurred with the new requirements.
Monitoring: The government investigated and monitored prison and detention center conditions. It permitted prison monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers but did not report receiving any such requests.
Improvements: The government took several steps to improve prison and detention center conditions. To improve record keeping, it sought bids for installation of a new software program that would include comprehensive information on every inmate, including data on legal status, hearing, and sentencing dates.
In 2011 the government opened a Penitentiary Training Academy to address human rights, prisoner’s rights, and penitentiary law. As of September 490 custodians had received training on penitentiary law and human rights at the academy in collaboration with the School of Human Rights of the Ombudsman’s Office. Training for prison directors under the auspices of UNODC at the Dominican Republic’s National Penitentiary School continued during the year.