Prison conditions in traditional prisons 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 and inmates with communicable diseases from the general population.
In contrast to traditional prisons, model prisons were run entirely by trained civilian guards; were not overcrowded; provided every prisoner with a bed, adequate shower, and sanitary facilities; and generally met the basic nutritional needs of inmates. In traditional prisons a warden who reported to the attorney general was technically responsible for running each prison, but 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 newer “model prisons” known as correctional and rehabilitation centers (CRCs).
Physical Conditions: As of August there were 26,664 prisoners held in 38 prisons with an overall intended capacity of 14,321. Of the 38 prisons, 19 were traditional facilities, 18 were CRCs, and one prison held minors. In addition, there were five palaces of justice to house temporary detainees. The CRCs were at capacity with 8,871 prisoners. Virtually all traditional prisons and detention centers were overcrowded; the CRCs operated near capacity. La Victoria prison, for example, which is the largest and most overcrowded prison in the country, held 8,526 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 1,785 prisoners.
Traditional prisons were all segregated by gender, except for La Romana prison. Prisoners in the CRCs were all separated by gender, and there were separate standing structures at the prisons of Najayo, Bani, and Rafey for female prisoners. As of August there were approximately 693 female prisoners. Of the inmate population in the CRCs, 8,364 were male and 507 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. All prisons had infirmaries, but most infirmaries did not meet the needs of the prison population. In traditional prisons prisoners must purchase their own medications unless the infirmary has donated supplies.
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 August 7, 45 prisoners died in correctional facilities. No deaths were attributed to abuses by prison guards.
Health and sanitary conditions were generally poor, and prisons generally did not provide adequate medical care to inmates. Prisoners commonly slept on the floor because there were no beds for them. Shower and sanitary facilities were often inadequate. More than 65 inmates in Najayo traditional men’s prison shared one shower and toilet. The frequency of illness among 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. Approximately 5 percent of the prison population was officially recorded as HIV/AIDS positive. The Directorate of Prisons reported all prisons in the system provided on-site HIV/AIDS treatment and care services, but the prison ombudsman reported only the CRCs had adequate on-site HIV/AIDS treatment and care services. Prisoners often paid for their own medication.
According to the prison ombudsman, most of the 18 CRCs 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. Inmates reported in two different prisons that the quantity of food was sufficient, but that the quality was low. The NHRC reported that in some traditional prisons there was insufficient food and potable water to meet prisoners’ needs.
Reports of mistreatment and violence in prisons were common, as were reports of harassment, extortion, and inappropriate searches of prison visitors.
Some prisons remained 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. This situation differed generally from the CRCs, where civilian prison guards maintained control of prison areas.
On May 28, Jose Paulino Ovidio Ficart, an inmate at La Victoria prison, allegedly strangled his partner, Maria del Carmen Henriquez Bocio, and then killed himself when the victim visited the prisoner in the prison’s infirmary. The prison authorities and the attorney general were investigating the incident as of November.
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, 58 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 to as long as 18 months in certain complex cases. The Directorate of Prisons reported that the majority of prisoners in pretrial detention waited for three months, but there were cases of persons in pretrial detention for as long as a year.
Juveniles were processed using specialized juvenile courts and generally were held in juvenile facilities. There were 464 minors in prison as of August.
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 did not report any improvement to recordkeeping during the year. Authorities used alternative sentencing for nonviolent offenders; however, information regarding specific laws, executive orders, and accurate statistics was not available.
Prisoners could observe their religious practices and generally had access to visitors, but visitors often had to bribe prison guards to visit prisoners. The Office of the Public Defender filed an injunction (“amparo”) against the prison in the palace of justice in San Francisco de Macoris in 2011 because it did not allow prisoners access to attorneys or family members on the weekends. In 2012 the Constitutional Tribunal ordered the attorney general to allow prison visits according to the legal protocol, but according to the NGO Citizen Participation, the ruling has not been implemented. 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. The Directorate of Prisons, however, reported that as of November, there were no children in the system. 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 pay bribes to obtain early release on parole.
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 collaborated with a local technical university to provide inmates with morning academic classes five days a week. These classes ranged from primary to high school level.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted visits and monitoring by independently funded and operated nongovernmental observers and the media. These groups operated independently from the government. Manuel Maria Mercedes, who was also the director of the NHRC, served as the 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.
Improvements: The government made advances with newer CRCs, where prisoners experienced improved conditions in comparison with other facilities. The government continued work on the traditional prison Najayo to convert it into a CRC and built a new CRC for women during the year.