Rival gangs, scorpions and one of the ‘World’s Toughest Prisons’: The Belize jail housing Jasmine Hartin

The daughter-in-law of Tory grandee Lord Ashcroft was remanded in custody until next week

Chris Havler-Barrett
In Belize City
Thursday 03 June 2021 21:25
<p>Belize Central Prison holds more than 1,000 prisoners in often overcrowded and unsanitary conditions</p>

Belize Central Prison holds more than 1,000 prisoners in often overcrowded and unsanitary conditions

At the start of May, Jasmine Hartin was celebrating the launch of the Alaia – a luxurious development in the millionaire’s playground of San Pedro, on the island of Ambergris Caye.

Today, the daughter-in-law of British billionaire Lord Michael Ashcroft is housed at Belize Central Prison, the crumbling structure that constitutes the only jail in the country.

Ms Hartin, who has two children with Lord Ashcroft’s son Andrew, is on remand, charged with the manslaughter of police officer Henry Jemmott after he was found in the water off San Pedro, shot with his own Glock 17 gun.

Belize Central Prison holds just over 1,000 prisoners – with men, women and youth offenders and death-row inmates among them. It once appeared in an episode of World’s Toughest Prisons.

After years of increasing gang violence in the small Central American country, the prison has become deeply religious, using spiritual instruction to defuse tensions between the dozens of rival groups – including branches of the infamous Los Angeles gangs, Bloods and Crips.

Due to a lack of infrastructure, Belize Central Prison also holds patients suffering from mental illnesses in the same general population as other prisoners.

The Central Prison is reminiscent of the overcrowded, spartan and unsanitary facilities that are common in neighbouring countries such as Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, and is in serious disrepair, with overcrowding from the strained Belizean legal system taking its toll.

Ironically nicknamed the “Hattieville Ramada” in reference to the nearby town, the prison was passed to the control of the nearby Grace Baptist Church and the religious Kolbe foundation as an attempt to lower both the reoffending rate and the levels of violence occurring inside.

Despite a turnaround in recidivism rates there have been serious allegations of corruption, favouritism and intentionally negligent conduct.

A number of former inmates have also spoken out about the conditions in the prison in recent years.

One former prisoner Robinson Michael told local 7 News that some areas of the prison were so dilapidated, inmates were able to simply escape “from that facility by just bending the rickets because of the corrosion of the salt air”.

Michael, speaking in 2015, alleged the terrible conditions directly led to the death of one inmate, Albert ‘Zeke’ Gordon, who died of respiratory failure.

“That man didn’t belong at the administrative segregation. Like I told you, the condition, the deterioration of the building, it is not a place to house human beings, period."

Concerns over conditions remain. There was an outbreak of Covid-19 in the facility last month, as the cramped cells provide a perfect breeding ground for the virus to spread. Recent reports have also seen the prison described as “scorpion infested”.

In October last year, 28 prisoners staged an armed breakout, taking hostages and using high-powered weapons to stage a mass escape.

The Kolbe foundation has denied any wrongdoing, and despite accusations, no investigation has been launched against the operators of the prison.

When contacted by The Independent, Kolbe director Virginio Murillo refused to comment and denied access.

Jasmine Hartin is being held in the crumbling structure

Belize Central Prison also functions as a remand facility for those awaiting trial.

The legal process in Belize is exceptionally slow. There is an enormous backlog in cases, which can sometimes take several years for those accused to see trial.

Crime in Belize has risen significantly in recent years, as the former British colony has found itself caught in the middle of the Central American drug trade, providing a convenient staging point between Colombian producers and Mexican cartels.

While the government has successfully managed to prevent the situation from spiralling out of control, the legal system in the country has struggled to process the rising number of criminal cases.

Having been denied bail once again, Hartin is set to be held in the prison until at least Wednesday, after the office of the Public Prosecutor deemed her to be a “serious flight risk”.

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