Mon | Apr 24, 2017

Prisons under scrutiny after mass breakout

Published:Thursday | September 11, 2014 | 9:00 AM

CROIX-DES-BOUQUETS (AP): The sudden gunfire rattled the morning routine outside the Croix-des-Bouquets Civil Prison and soon inmates, many barefoot and shirtless, dashed frantically from the maximum-security facility, startling street vendors as they looted their wares and fled through the unpaved streets.

One month after the prison break, only about 75 of the 329 escapees have been recaptured, some found across the border in the Dominican Republic, and at least three in The Bahamas. About 255 of the men, many accused of serious crimes such as kidnapping and rape, remain at large, leaving residents in the greater Port-au-Prince area worried and frustrated.

"I feel fear in my heart when I'm walking," Bency Dorvil, 47, said as he trudged past cinderblock homes in Petionville, a hillside city that lies roughly 10 miles (16 kilometres) southwest of the prison. "The guys have guns and I don't have any."

Like many others, he said, he is leaving work early to avoid having to return home in the dark.

While crime has long troubled Haiti, the August 10 breakout exposed serious flaws in the country's justice system. Lax security, overcrowding and deep-seated corruption have made the prison system among the worst run in the Western Hemisphere. Repeated governments have lacked the resources or will to change it.

Details about what led to the escape are still emerging.

According to some reports, gunmen pulled up to the prison in two SUVs, opening fire and quickly overwhelming the poorly equipped guards. The official account, however, says the shooting erupted from within, with inmates using smuggled guns to overtake their captors.