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Threat Assessment: Haitian Prison Break

Jack Yerem, Robert Collie, and Benedetta Piva

SOUTHCOM

March 7, 2021


Summary

Since the breakout of 400 prisoners from Croix-des-Bouquets Civil Prison near the city of Port-au-Prince in Haiti on Thursday, February 26th, 25 individuals have died including 6 prisoners.[1] The threat posed to civilians and prisoners is extremely high considering only 60 prisoners have been captured and over 300 remain at large.[2] The threat to prisoners is also a serious one considering that the prison had double the amount of prisoners than its maximum capacity. The danger doesn’t only apply to Haiti, but also the Dominican Republic which borders Haiti on the same island. The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) expects it will take about one year for the police and military in Haiti, and possibly the Dominican Republic, to capture all of the prisoners that escaped on February 26. Based on past prison breaks, like the one in 2014, it should be assumed that the prisoners that escaped are armed and dangerous, like the one that also occurred at Croix-des-Bouquets in 2014. Future implications of this prison break include the escapees trying to flee the country and going to the Dominican Republic, or trying to get off the island and boating to Cuba or Jamaica. CTG expects that organized crime will rise as time goes by because the prisoners will most likely return to what they were doing before they were arrested.


Assessments

The breakout of 400 prisoners poses a significant threat to the internal security of Caribbean nations, namely Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and possibly the United States. Most significantly for Haiti, the trafficking of these prisoners to these countries may augment organized criminal activity. Due to recent increases in levels of organized crime and violence within Haiti from prolonged protests, the breakout of 400 prisoners will likely augment the levels of violence and further embolden political dissidents protesting against the current President Jovenel Moïse’s tenure. Though the majority of prisoners are low-level offenders, many are responsible for high-level crimes and are part of or have connections to powerful crime organizations and cartels. Over the past few months, Haiti has had violent protests against alleged authoritarian policies enacted by the President. There have also been demonstrations against the alleged corruption and collusion between high-levels of government, police, and organized crime to crack down on political opponents and movements. The 2014 prison breakout was a targeted attack by an unidentified criminal organization aimed at liberating Clifford Brandt, the son of a prominent Haitian businessman, for the murder of a business acquaintance.[3] Authorities believe that this most recent breakout was also to liberate a high-level criminal. The target of the breakout is believed to be Arnel Joseph, responsible for several violent crimes. The combination of the propensity for heightened crime from the escapees along with the existing civil disruption and political violence heightens the probability of further conflict, violence, and civil disruption in Haiti and perhaps beyond.

Overcrowding in prisons in the Caribbean is a problem that needs to be taken more seriously. Since the Caribbean is home to several overseas and overland smuggling routes, prisoners have the opportunity of developing criminal networks within prisons. An increased prison population augments these networks. Furthermore, overcrowding endangers the prisoners in custody that aren’t a part of a gang, or minority gangs within the prison because individuals are sharing cells built for two people with six to eight prisoners.[4] Overcrowding also endangers the guards working at the prison because of the increasing potential for prisoners to overpower guards during riots. Having too many prisoners in a facility also makes breakouts more likely. This is common in the Middle East, since there are so many prisoners there at one time, security procedures are very difficult to carry out with a regular shift of guards. No specifics have come out about how the prisoners escaped, but it is likely to have something to do with overcrowding in the prison.

It is also possible that the guards may have helped the prisoners escape. In the past, guards have been reprimanded and even fired for their actions or inaction during prison breaks. It is a possibility considering guards and police in Haiti do not make a significant amount of money, while organized crime groups that may want to break out their captured colleagues do. Especially in the SOUTHCOM region, security and police are susceptible to bribes and coercion because of the money and threat these groups pose to them and their families.

Future Implications

Locally, the prison break will most likely have an immediate effect. With the rising tension between police and protesters gathering against the current president, the escape of 400 prisoners should only increase these tensions and possibly lead to violence. As time passes, it is expected that organized crime throughout the country will increase because over 400 escapees will be looking for work. The danger of the prisoners escaping also applies to the Dominican Republic and Cuba. The prison, as seen in the first image in the annex, is extremely close to both the Caribbean Sea and the Dominican border. Escapees, like Clifford Brandt in 2014, will look for ways to get out of the country and one of the easiest ways is to cross over to the Dominican Republic.[5]

CTG expects that most of the prisoners will be at large for about a year considering it took the police and military 11 months to recapture the majority of those who escaped in 2014 and given the larger number of escapees. Some will most likely never be captured in Haiti because they’d have fled to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, or somewhere else before they could be found.


Annex



Prison Civile de la Croix des Bouquets (center)[6]

________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1] “Officials: 400 escape, 25 dead after Haiti prison breakout”, Local10, February 2021, https://www.local10.com/news/world/2021/02/26/police-infamous-gang-leader-killed-after-prison-breakout/

[2] “Officials: 400 escape, 25 dead after Haiti prison breakout”, Local10, February 2021, https://www.local10.com/news/world/2021/02/26/police-infamous-gang-leader-killed-after-prison-breakout/

[3] Haiti Prison Break - Total 329 inmates escape from Croix-des-Bouquets prison, The Haitian Internet, August 2014, http://www.haitianinternet.com/articles/haiti-prison-break-total-329-inmates-escape-from- croix-des-b.html

[4] Haiti - Security : 329 escapees, the government explains, Haiti Libre, August 2014, https://www.haitilibre.com/en/news-11795-haiti-security-329-escapees-the-government-explains-video.html

[5] Wealthy kidnapping ring leader gets 18 years in Haiti jail, dunyanews, September 2016, https://dunyanews.tv/en/Crime/353149-Wealthy-kidnapping-ring-leader-gets-18-years-in-Ha

[6]Prison Civile de la Croix des Bouquets” by Google Maps

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