A few years ago, one of our young men from our church got himself into a bit of trouble doing something that is just typical teenage folly, but that unfortunately landed him in prison. He was held for one month in the Petit Goave prison, along with 70 other men sharing his cell where hygiene, food and sanitation were non-existent. Our church members visited often, which spurred in us to begin a prison ministry to visit the prisoners, bring them food, clothing and share songs and the Scriptures with them. This ministry has been very impacting. In one of our visits, it became clear that God was calling us to do more.
Often times, prisoners in Haiti are not hard criminals, but rather have landed there for petty crimes such as stealing a piece of bread or getting into a fight with a neighbour. But because of the lack of justice, many of them, even when wrongfully accused, end up spending long periods of time with little hope of release in prison. Petit Goave holds the two nearest prisons to Grand-Goave, one for adult men and one for women and minors. The adult male prison hosts just two cells, maybe measuring 15 x 20 ft and can have up to 100 men per cell - no beds, no toilet, no space, no fresh air. The youth & female prison is a much smaller two-cell prison each measuring 8 x 8 ft and can hold up to 12 prisoners each with youth as young as 12 years old.
The Haiti ARISE Justice Assistance Office opened in April 2016 with the goal of providing legal representation for prisoners of petty crimes, giving them the opportunity to present their cases before a judge and stand trial for their judgement in a timely manner. We employ 5 lawyers in our office that visit the prisons daily to learn the stories and research cases of the prisoners. In the first year we were able to assist 87 prisoners, bringing 75 of them to freedom. Currently we have 179 active cases.