Can Haiti Reclaim Pre-Earthquake Justice Sector Reform?

July 9, 2010
by Lindsay Hodges Anderson

Prior to the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010, the nation’s judicial system was struggling to put a credible justice system in place, and there were some signs of increased police accountability, improved training for judges and reductions in deadly violence in its overcrowded prisons. The earthquake set the effort back, but Harvard Kennedy School Professor Christopher Stone argues that all has not been lost.

In a new paper, Stone, the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim professor of the practice of criminal justice and faculty chair of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management, finds hope for renewed judicial reform in the midst of a fragile environment.

"A field visit in March 2010 in preparation of this paper found police and prisons thrown back into reliance on rough justice, the courts closed, and the new training facility commandeered to house other government functions," wrote Stone. "As one Haitian civilian described the situation to the researchers, the two pillars of Haitian society had collapsed in the quake: the Church, with its principal cathedral destroyed, and the Government, with the White House, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Justice, and Supreme Court leveled to the ground."

In the Working Paper titled "A New Era for Justice Sector Reform in Haiti," Stone draws on pre-earthquake surveys and post-earthquake assessments (the former conducted as part of the United Nations’ Rule of Law Indicators Project), to explore questions about the goals of justice sector reform in Haiti; the priority of police, courts and prison reform; the post-earthquake mission of police in Haiti; and the more immediate opportunities for change that can be leveraged.

"Can the Haitian government and civil society take advantage of the new international support to accelerate the reform process, building a credible, professional, effective, and respectful system of criminal justice?" writes Stone. "On the one hand, the recovery process needs to avoid rebuilding institutions that were themselves poorly fitted to the Haitian context or which simply could not deliver on their promises. On the other hand, the recovery must not start from scratch. A new era for the justice sector must build on the real achievements of the last few years without rebuilding structures that themselves resisted progress."

The research paper can be read in full on the Harvard Kennedy School Research Report Online website.

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Christopher Stone

Christopher Stone, the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim professor of the practice of criminal justice and faculty chair of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management.

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