By Meleasie Goviro – EM TV International, Port Moresby
On Sunday, for the first time ever, Dominican Republic inmates were allowed to vote in a presidential election.
The pilot project is part of a broader reform initiated by former British prison warden and now reformer, Andrew Coyle, in 2003.
Over 1,500 prisoners were permitted to vote.
The program is, however, restricted to inmates held in pretrial detention for minor crimes and they are only allowed to vote for the President and Vice-President.
“It’s an unprecedented event, and I think on this occasion what the authorities have wanted is to comply with what the Constitution establishes. Many of the people found in penitentiaries still benefit from the presumption of innocence (and have not been convicted), and have not lost any of their civic or political rights.” said Vice President of Justice and Institutional Foundation, Servio Tulio Castanos.
According to the NGO Freedom House, nine out of 10 inmates in Dominican prisons have not been convicted of a crime.
61 inmates are in pretrial detention, according to the U.K.-based International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS).
Castanos commended the Attorney General’s office and the Central Electoral Council for making the project a reality.
“For me it’s one of the most important events of this electoral cycle” said President of National Dominican Electoral Council, Roberto Rosario.
“It’s a policy of inclusion of participation of citizens which makes us proud.”
To date, 18 of the Dominican Republic’s 35 prisons run on the new model system which ensures that inmates are treated more humanely.
These prisons focus on education and clean living conditions.
Unlike the traditional Dominican prison system, the numbers of inmates who commit crimes within three years of being released are substantially lower.
Officials said less than five per cent of inmates released from the model system re-offend; in the traditional system the rate is 50 per cent.