Bringing Justice to the Illegally Detained in Haiti

Released juvenile detainee Rico Auguste poses with members of the PROJUSTICE team.
Released juvenile detainee Rico Auguste, center, poses with members of the PROJUSTICE team.
PROJUSTICE
Project reduces prolonged pretrial detention
Grateful for his release, Rico said that he will not waste his newfound freedom; he plans to go back to school, become a mechanic, and open a vehicle repair shop.

With the loss of his mother when he was only 8 years old, Rico Auguste became the primary wage earner for his family, which consisted of himself and his two little brothers. To support his family, Rico was forced to quit school and find work as a porter on a local bus traveling between Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, and Jérémie, a town located in the southwestern tip of Haiti.

On Sept. 13, 2012, after a disagreement with a fellow porter, 17-year-old Rico was arrested for simple assault, detained at a police station for four days, and then sent to the National Penitentiary. On Oct. 16, after already serving more than a month in detention, he was convicted and sentenced to 15 days in prison. Then his case fell through the cracks. 

At the National Penitentiary, Rico was mistreated by other prisoners who often assaulted him. To survive, he fetched water for "the major," the unofficial leader of the prisoners. In return for Rico’s help, the major provided him protection.

The USAID-funded PROJUSTICE project stepped in to help Rico. The project, launched in 2009, aims to strengthen the Haitian judiciary and increase security through improved rule of law, which includes supporting judicial authorities in reducing the level of illegal and prolonged pretrial detention.

When the PROJUSTICE team interviewed Rico in early April 2013, he had been in prison for more than 180 days beyond his court-ordered release date. PROJUSTICE went to the registry of the Port-au-Prince Prosecutor’s Office to obtain his final judgment, which contains the court’s verdict and sentence, both necessary for the defendant’s release. The project then forwarded the final judgment to Deputy Prosecutor James Pierre and asked for Rico’s release since his prolonged detention was illegal. Finally, on April 5, the PROJUSTICE team obtained Rico’s release.

Grateful for his release, Rico said that he will not waste his newfound freedom; he plans to go back to school, become a mechanic, and open a vehicle repair shop.

Since October 2010, PROJUSTICE has been helping Haitian judicial authorities to reduce illegal and prolonged pretrial detentions by reviewing more than 1,300 priority cases, leading to the release of 82 detainees and the expedition of more than 1,070 cases. The project is scheduled to end in July 2014.

Last updated: May 23, 2014

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