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Exclusive | What really happened at the Haitian National Penitentiary?


Two unpublished reports, as well as exclusive interviews conducted by AyiboPost with actors on site, shed light on how thousands of prisoners were able to escape from the largest prison center in the country in early March

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Sporadic shots rang out at varying intensities around the national penitentiary, a week before the escape.

The bandits also communicated their intention to storm Haiti’s largest prison on the internet.

And, on March 2, 2024, they reached their objective in inky darkness, trails of fire and a disastrous concert of deafening gunfire.

penitencier national haiti

View of a section of the national penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, after the invasion of March 2, 2024. | © Jean Feguens Regala/AyiboPost

Two unpublished reports, as well as exclusive interviews conducted by AyiboPost with a dozen officials and actors on site and in the surrounding area, help to understand how thousands of detainees were able to escape from the largest prison center in the country, in the most significant prison break of the decade.


Long before the attack, an audio recording leaked. In the 6 minute and 9 second recording, several individuals openly discuss the best ways to “capture the penitentiary.”

This recording, widely distributed on WhatsApp, was transferred to at least 1 of the National Prison Administration‘s (DAP) officials, notes AyiboPost.

Sporadic shots, as well as direct clashes with the police, intensified near the institution starting Feb. 28, according to one of the two reports.

The following day, an inmate who was supposed to go to court was stuck in the prison until 8 in the evening. They were only able to leave the area thanks to an armored vehicle.

Blindé de la PNH

A Haitian National Police (PNH) armored vehicle circulating near the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince.

On the Saturday of the attack, the majority of employees, police and administrative staff, did not show up. The tense situation around the prison for several days was offered up as an excuse by most of them.

According to one of the penitentiary officials, around 70% of the 40 employees, including police officers, were not present based on the day’s attendance list. It is not clear whether other employees were late and had not entered their names.

Powerful shots whistled in all directions around the penitentiary on the afternoon of March 2. Around 6:15 pm, police officers supporting the DAP agents “moved,” we read in a report sent to the director of the prison administration.

Police armored vehicles in the area disengaged in the meantime.

“It’s dark and the armored vehicles said they couldn’t take it anymore,” a police officer on site told AyiboPost the same evening.

Read also: Police officers desert the streets of Port-au-Prince

A source at the Western Departmental Directorate (DDO) of the police at the Champ-de-Mars, confirms for AyiboPost the arrival of a group of agents from the penitentiary around the time indicated in the report.

“More than half a dozen officers arrived, the police officer told AyiboPost. We wanted to send them back to the penitentiary with an armored vehicle, but they refused to go back,” says this police officer, a witness to the scene.

According to one of two reports obtained exclusively by AyiboPost, the decisive assault began at 7:40 pm.

Well before, one of the officials assigned to the penitentiary called and sent a request for reinforcement via WhatsApp to Pierre René François, the director of the DAP. This request remained unanswered.

Contacted by AyiboPost, the director denies the existence of any messages or calls for help.

“No calls, no messages,” Pierre René François told AyiboPost. The officers, he said, “gave no distress signal and made no call to say they were going to disengage.”

However, according to the director, “we can still understand the situation. It was not easy for them to manage.”

Long before the attack, an audio recording leaked. In the 6 minute and 9 second recording, several individuals openly discuss the best ways to “capture the penitentiary.”

The bandits launch a final assault!

Confusion, mixed with excitement and fear, reigned inside the prison, while outside, the machine gunfire accelerated. According to several prisoners on site, many detainees were already out of their cells, well before the escape.

In his report, one of the officials present that evening writes that he looked at the scene “rationally”. After the departure of the support agents around 6 o’clock, the others « were unable to resist the repeated attacks of the gangs. »

Earlier, the bandits had captured images of the prison with a drone. One of the videos began to circulate widely via WhatsApp.

Faced with what an on-site official refers to as an “imminent danger” in his report, he says he “took cover ». « And the DAP police officers who were in strategic points, internally and externally, also had to take cover. »

It is then that the prison begins to empty of its occupants.

During the escape, “the bandits had their plan, the police did not,” another officer in the vicinity of the prison told AyiboPost.


The next day, Sunday, March 3, officials went to the penitentiary to assess the damage. The main entrance gate was not destroyed.

évasion de prisonniers haiti

From the outside, curious passers-by look inside the penitentiary, through the main entrance door of the prison, wide open the day after the prisoners’ escape.

“All the cell doors remained open with the exception of the one where Joseph Félix Badio was being detained, incarcerated in the case of the assassination of former President Jovenel Moïse,” according to one of the reports submitted to those responsible of the DAP.

Read also : Qu’est-ce qu’on sait de Joseph Félix Badio ?

According to the National Penitentiary’s report, obtained exclusively by AyiboPost, out of 3,696 inmates, only 87 have not escaped – some due to lack of interest or because they are either old or ill.

Évasion pénitencier national

Sunday, March 3, 2024, a sick prisoner, who had been pushed and injured during the escape of March 2, 2024, was assisted by a man. Another is lying on the ground. | © Jean Feguens Regala/AyiboPost

Most of them were transferred to the Delmas 33 prison and to the Central Directorate of the Judicial Police (DCPJ) the following day, March 3.

Colombiens en prison Haïti

Three of the Colombians involved in the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse walk in the courtyard of the national penitentiary the day after the escape, Sunday, March 3, 2024.

In a note published on March 10, a police union describes this spectacular escape as a “conspiracy”. In an interview with AyiboPost, Garry Jean Baptiste, SPNH-17 advisor, confirmed that the police union is calling for sanctions against those who should have acted to prevent this incident.

“There was collusion within the national prison administration,” Samuel Madistin, an influential lawyer whose several clients have been detained in the penitentiary, told AyiboPost.

Pierre Esperance, director of the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH) had a similar reaction. It was known that the bandits were planning to attack the prison center, but “the high command did nothing,” says the human rights defender. “Only Frantz Elbé – police director – can provide explanations to the justice system: for me, they handed over the prison to the bandits,” he maintains.

For the general coordinator of the National Union of Haitian Police Officers, Lionel Lazarre, explanations are needed concerning the inaction of those responsible in the face of requests for reinforcement from police officers at the National Penitentiary.


The day after the attack, sets of prison keys, police uniforms and administrative documents were found on the ground, according to one of the two reports obtained by AyiboPost. Most of the padlocks and barriers were broken.

“We did what we could,” Pierre René François, director of the DAP, told AyiboPost. “We didn’t just have the national penitentiary to secure,” he said. “There was also the national palace, the base of the Departmental Unit for Maintaining Order (UDMO), the Port-au-Prince police station, the airport… the bandits were everywhere and it was not easy to manage. »

Read also: Thousands of prisoners escape from Haiti’s national penitentiary

Immediately following the escape from the Penitentiary on March 2, 2024, the civil prison of Croix-des-Bouquets was attacked the same day, around 8:30 pm, confirms Zao Isaac, the prisons’s director, to AyiboPost.

On site at the time of the attack, Isaac was hit by a projectile in the stomach. He has already undergone an operation.

More than 10 days after his hospitalization, the manager revealed that he had not received any visits or calls from the police high command.

Contacted by AyiboPost, the spokesperson for the Haitian National Police, Garry Desrosiers, did not respond for this article.

Since the successful attack at the penitentiary, the bandits have continued to carry out targeted attacks against police officers. At least half a dozen of the institution’s stations were either attacked or set on fire.

On Thursday, March 14, 2024, it was the residence of the head of the PNH, Frantz Elbé, which was looted and then partly burned by gangs in La Plaine.

Trade unionist Lionel Lazarre considers this attack as a clear message sent to all those responsible in the country: “no one is safe.”

Read also: Police officers desert the streets of Port-au-Prince

Nearly 2 weeks after the attack, a fire of unknown origin could be observed inside the civil prison of Port-au-Prince. Firefighters were able to put it out in time, but, according to a police officer assigned to the National Penitentiary, the space remains without any security system since the attacks by armed bandits.

Feu au Pénitencier national Haiti (2)

Agents from the National Penitentiary Administration (APENA) arrived on site to accompany the firefighters who were going to attempt to extinguish the fire that occurred at the prison on Thursday, March 14, 2024, nearly 2 weeks after the escape.

Feu au penitencier

A fire truck enters the prison to extinguish the fire.

Feu au Pénitencier Haiti

Firefighters work to extinguish the fire.

Feu au Pénitencier national Haiti

A section of the National Penitentiary has been set on fire.

feu pénitencier port-au-prince

View of a section of the penitentiary showing cells ablaze.

By  Widlore Mérancourt et Rolph Louis-Jeune

Cover image : View of a barrier at the entrance of the national penitentiary, the day after the escape on March 2, 2024.

Visionnez ce reportage réalisé par AyiboPost en 2019 sur le problème de la détention préventive prolongée en Haïti:

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Widlore Mérancourt est éditeur en chef d’AyiboPost et contributeur régulier au Washington Post. Il détient une maîtrise en Management des médias de l’Université de Lille et une licence en sciences juridiques. Il a été Content Manager de LoopHaïti.