Prison Break in Haiti Highlights Flailing Justice System

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Authorities in Haiti are scrambling to recapture more than 300 prisoners who escaped during an attack on a prison near the capital, pointing to serious weaknesses in the justice system.

According to the Haitian authorities, the August 10 attack on the Croix des Bouquets prison was carried out to free Clifford Brandt, son of a wealthy businessman, who is accused of leading a kidnapping gang, reported El Nacional. A total of 329 prisoners, including Brandt, escaped during a shootout between guards and armed assailants.

Following the attack, Haitian authorities set up police checkpoints and reinforced security at the border with the Dominican Republic, reported the Miami Herald. On August 11, national police chief Godson Orelus stated that authorities had recaptured as many as 10 inmates. Brandt was detained the following day near the border with the Dominican Republic, after the Haitian government offered a $22,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

Orelus said that the authorities were conducting an investigation to determine whether or not the attack was planned by individuals within the prison, reported the Miami Herald.

InSight Crime Analysis

The prison break highlights the shortcomings of Haiti’s courts and penitentiary system, which have failed to promptly bring to trial or adequately house huge numbers of prisoners. The country has one of the most overcrowded prison systems in the world, at over 400 percent capacity, according to the International Center for Prison Studies. This is due in part to the overuse of pretrial detention, with some 70 percent of the prison population yet to stand trial. According to the Miami Herald, Brandt had been in pretrial detention for 22 months in the Croix des Bouquets prison, which housed 899 inmates in a space designed for a maximum of 768.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Haiti

Haiti’s last major prison break occurred during the country’s 2010 earthquake, which damaged the National Penitentiary, allowing 4,500 prisoners to escape. The devastation left by the earthquake seriously undermined security in Haiti, and the recent prison break is another blow to the country’s efforts to rebuild its institutions.

If proven, Brandt’s ability to stage a mass prison break is a worrying sign for the authorities, and could discourage witnesses from testifying against criminals for fear that they could escape.

Brandt has confessed to leading a kidnapping gang, which was also involved in money laundering and arms trafficking. He is accused of participating in the 2012 kidnapping of the children of a wealthy banker, along with 18 others, including several police officers.

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