New Study on Prison Reform in the Dominican Republic launched

July 24, 2019

Jennifer Peirce, holder of a master’s in international relations—published on July 23 at Funglode—through GFDD’s Fellows program.

Santo Domingo – Throughout 15 years of political changes and budgetary restrictions, the Dominican New Prison Management Model has adapted, integrated lessons, and shared its experiences and tools with neighbor countries in Latin America. The model stands in contrast with other popular prison management “models” that emphasize order, technology, and highly clinical risk evaluation and management. This is one of the conclusions of the study on prison reform in the Dominican Republic, presented this Tuesday, July 23, at the Fundación Global Democracia y Desarrollo (Funglode).

The research—carried out as part of the Global Foundation for Democracy and Development’s (GFDD’s) Fellows program by Jennifer Peirce, holder of a master’s in international relations—also concludes that “the Dominican New Prison Management Model is a remarkable achievement of building and implementing an entirely new vision and practice for how a country handles punishment, rehabilitation, and policy implementation.”

“It puts human rights discourse and principles at its core and puts concrete resources into education and services as a priority. At the institutional level, it conceptualized a new kind of professional – the VTP officer – and trained thousands of people to take on this role.”

In a more critical tone, it simultaneously points out that “in some areas, there are shortages of services and access to key resources. Due to weak oversight mechanisms, there is a sense of frustration and lack of accountability when officials or staff commit misconduct or abuse their power.”

It also refers to the “new, bold next phase of prison reform”: The Prison System Humanization Plan, launched in 2013 by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Republic. The plan covers many key challenges that remain for the New Prison Management Model to tackle. It involves integrating the two models within prison institutions and dismantling the largest penitentiary in the country (La Victoria), as well as building new CCR-style installations to replace it.

The prison reform process in the Dominican Republic is the only one of its kind in Latin America and a wide international arena, notes author Jennifer Peirce in the introduction to her study “More Humane Prisons as Part of More Just, Peaceful, and Inclusive Societies: Analyzing the Dominican Republic’s Prison Reform Experience through the Lens of UN SDG 16”.

She highlights that in 2003 the Dominican government created the New Prison Management Model, promoted in alliance with several local and international bodies. At time of writing, there are 22 Centers for Correction and Rehabilitation (CCRs) in the country.

The activity was organized by GFDD through its Fellows program and Funglode’s Center for Security and Defense Studies (CESEDE).

Yamile Eusebio, director of GFDD’s New York office, offered words of welcome to the activity and noted that “Peirce carried out her research in the Dominican Republic between 2017 and 2018 and traveled around the island to be able to present work that goes beyond analysis, as in her conclusions she offers detailed proposals that call us to action to make the penitentiary system in general more humane and aligned with respect for prisoners’ dignity.” Josefina Reynoso, director of CESEDE, presented the speaker and praised the contributions of the research.

The author argues in her study that the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda set out an important goal and a step forward with its SDG 16, which focuses on crime and violence and calls for actions to build justice, rule of law, and inclusion. “Prisons are often forgotten in this conversation – despite being a central component of justice systems and a site of serious violence,” Peirce writes.

In terms of regional context, she highlights that the Dominican Republic is in the mid-range of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of its per capita incarceration rate, with 238 incarcerated people per 100,000 inhabitants.

Peirce notes that it was due to the growing clamor from prisoners themselves as well as their families, civil society, and the media over precarious prison conditions—and the urgent complaint of extreme overcrowding—that legislators and leaders within government institutions began to search for new focuses and solutions.

The study’s aim was to identify the main components and challenges of the New Prison Management Model and evaluate its impacts and limits, taking SDG 16 of the UN’s Agenda 2030 as its point of reference.

Among other aspects, the study focused on: the history of the modern Dominican prison system; the evolution of the New Prison Management Model in the criminal justice system; the key elements of the reforms, that is, the CCRs and the traditional penitentiaries; and experiences of incarcerated people.

About the author
Jennifer Peirce is a specialist in international development, with 10 years of experience in government, multilateral, and nonprofit organizations, including the Inter-American Development Bank and the Government of Canada. Her areas of specialization include security reform, prison systems, prevention of community violence, and problems of post-conflict governance in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The study, carried out through the GFDD/Funglode Fellows program between 2017 and 2018, is part of Peirce’s research for her doctoral dissertation at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York (CUNY).

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