Prison conditions continued to be harsh. Prisons continued to be overcrowded, and facilities, sanitation, and medical care were seriously deficient. Reports of beatings of prisoners were commonplace and included beatings by prison officials as well as among prisoners. There were some reports of prisoner-on-prisoner sexual assaults, generally due to lax security by prison guards, and at least one report of rape by prison guards.
Physical Conditions: In May, for the first time in decades, the government published the number of prisoners, declaring that 57,337 persons were incarcerated. It did not provide information regarding the number, location, or capacity of detention centers, which included not only prisons but also work camps and other kinds of detention facilities.
Men and women were held in separate prisons and police detention facilities. Generally, women reported suffering the same poor prison conditions as men, including inadequate medical care. Women also reported lack of access to feminine hygiene products and inadequate prenatal care. The government released limited information on the treatment of minors at either youth or adult prisons or detention centers. There were reports of inmates as young as 15 in maximum-security prisons.
Prison cells lacked adequate water, sanitation, space, light, ventilation, and temperature control. Although the state provided basic food and some medical care, many prisoners relied on family parcels for food and other basic supplies. Potable water was frequently unavailable. Prison cells were overcrowded, limiting freedom of movement during the day. Prisoners often slept on concrete bunks without a mattress, with some reports of more than one person sharing a narrow bunk. Where available, mattresses were thin and often infested with vermin and insects.
Prisoners, family members, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported inadequate health care, which led to or aggravated multiple maladies. Prisoners also reported outbreaks of dengue, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and cholera. Prison health workers often reused syringes, raising safety and hygiene concerns.
Political prisoners and the general prison population were held in similar conditions. Political prisoners who refused to wear standard prison uniforms frequently were denied certain privileges such as access to prison libraries and standard reductions in the severity of their sentence (for example, being transferred from a maximum-security to a medium-security prison or work camp). The government sometimes placed healthy prisoners in cells with mentally disturbed inmates as punishment to both political and nonpolitical prisoners. Political prisoners also reported being threatened or harassed by fellow inmates whom they thought were acting on orders of prison authorities.
There were multiple reports of prison deaths from heart attacks, asthma attacks, HIV/AIDS, and other chronic medical conditions, as well as from suicide.
Prisoners reported that solitary confinement was a common punishment for misconduct and that some had been held in isolation for months or even years at a time. David Piloto, imprisoned for peaceful political activity, reported that he was held in solitary confinement for more than six months. In general prisoners in isolation had restrictions on family visits.
Administration: There was no publicly available information about prison administration or recordkeeping in the prison system.
Alternative sentencing was available for nonviolent offenders and for juveniles. Nonviolent offenders may be sentenced to probation. Juveniles may be sentenced to Escuelas de Formacion Integral, or Holistic Training Schools, which worked to rehabilitate troubled youth.
By law prisoners and detainees may seek redress regarding prison conditions and procedural violations, such as continued incarceration after their prison sentence has expired. Prisoners reported that in practice government officials often refused to allow or accept complaints, or failed to respond to the complaints once submitted. In September opposition member Jorge Vazquez Chaviano began a hunger strike protesting his continued incarceration despite having completed his sentence. Vasquez Chaviano was released from prison on October 10.
Prisoners and pretrial detainees had access to visitors, although some political prisoners’ relatives reported that prison officials arbitrarily canceled scheduled visits. Many prisoners were able to communicate information about their living conditions through telephone calls to human rights observers and reports to family members.
Prisoners could practice limited religious observance. Both the Catholic Church and the Cuban Council of Churches reported access to prisoners during the year, with services offered in prisons and detention centers in most if not all provinces. There were isolated reports that prison authorities did not inform inmates of their right to religious assistance, delayed months before responding to such requests, and limited visits to a maximum of two or three times per year.
Monitoring: On December 8, the government shared publicly that it has a legal department within the Attorney General’s Office that is empowered to investigate allegations of abuse in the prison system. The results of these investigations were not publicly accessible.
The government did not permit independent monitoring of prison conditions by international or national human rights groups and did not permit access to detainees by international humanitarian organizations. In June the government pledged to allow a visit by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment; however, no visit had taken place by year’s end (see section 1.e. “Political Prisoners and Detainees”).