Haitian authorities say more than 400 prisoners have escaped and 25 people have died in prison outbreaks, making it the largest and deadliest in the country in ten years
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – Haitian authorities announced on Friday that more than 400 prisoners have escaped and 25 people have died in prison outbreaks, making it the largest and deadliest in the country in ten years, and the prison director and powerful leader gangs were among those killed.
Some believe a prison on Thursday in the Croix-des-Bouquets civilian prison in northeastern Port-au-Prince released gang leader Arnel Joseph, who was Haiti’s most wanted fugitive until his arrest in 2019 on charges involving rape, kidnapping and murder .
Joseph was riding a motorcycle through the Artibonite area in the town of L’Estère on Friday the day after his escape when he was spotted at a checkpoint, police spokesman Gary Desrosiers told the Associated Press. He said Joseph pulled out a gun and died in an exchange of fire with police.
Joseph ruled the Village de Dieu, or Village of God, a refuge in downtown Port-au-Prince and other communities, including some in Artibonite, Haiti’s largest division.
Authorities have not yet provided much details about the outbreak, other than to say that 60 prisoners have been recaptured and an investigation is ongoing. Secretary of State Frantz Exantus said authorities have set up several commissions to investigate who organized the breakthrough and why. Among those killed was the prison director, identified as Paul Joseph Hector.
Residents who did not want to be identified because they feared for their lives told the AP they saw the attackers shooting at prison guards before the inmates escaped from the Croix-des-Bouquets penitentiary.
The prison is known for the 2014 outbreak in which more than 300 of the 899 inmates held there at the time escaped. Some believed the attack was designed to free Clifford Brandt, the son of a prominent businessman, who has been in prison since 2012 for allegedly abducting the adult businessman’s adult children. Brandt was captured two days later near the border with the Dominican Republic.
After the 2014 breakthrough, officials said they were taking steps to increase security at the prison Canada built in 2012, including setting up security cameras and setting up joint monitors for the most dangerous inmates. It was not immediately clear whether any of these measures had been taken. At the time of Thursday’s outbreak, there were 1,542 inmates in the prison, almost twice its capacity.
The biggest prison breakthrough in Haiti in recent history occurred after a devastating earthquake in 2010 in which more than 4,200 inmates escaped from the infamous National Penitentiary in downtown Port-au-Prince.
President Jovenel Moïse announced on Twitter on Friday that he had condemned the latest escape from prison and asked people to remain calm. He added that Haiti’s national police were “instructed to take all measures to bring the situation under control”.
Meanwhile, Helen La Lime, the special representative of Haiti, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, stated that she was deeply concerned about the rebellion and escape from prison.
“I urge the police to speed up the investigation into the circumstances surrounding this incident, redouble efforts to re-arrest refugees and strengthen security around prisons across the country,” she said. “This prison break further highlights the problem of prolonged pre-trial detention and prison overcrowding, which remains a matter of concern that must be urgently addressed by the Haitian authorities.”
AP journalist Dánica Coto contributed from San Juan, Puerto Rico.