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Convicts as Cleaners for Cuban Hospitals

Day-release scheme gives prisoners an income and provides extra hands for short-staffed healthcare system.
By Augusto César San Martin Albistur
  • A staff cleaner (not a convict) at a Cuban hospital. (Photo: Gerardo Younel Ávila Perdomo/Hablemos Press Center)
    A staff cleaner (not a convict) at a Cuban hospital. (Photo: Gerardo Younel Ávila Perdomo/Hablemos Press Center)

Hospitals in the Cuban capital Havana have found a novel way of filling gaps in their staffing – hiring prisoners from a local jail, 

Five city hospitals in Havana are now employing inmates from the Guatao low-security women’s prison as cleaners.

The women are working under a scheme introduced in July allowing prisoners to go on day release and carry out paid work once they have completed a proportion of their sentences.

A personnel officer at the Calixto García Hospital said health ministry had drawn up a contract with the interior ministry to allow the arrangement to go ahead. She said the inmates were being paid 395 pesos a month, of which the interior ministry withheld 45.

The monthly wage is worth just 18 dollars, but that is roughly the same as the average Cuban earns.

The convicts are divided into teams which work on alternate days. They are bused to whichever hospital they have been assigned to in the morning, and taken back when they finish at half past four in the afternoon.

They wear distinctive purple clothing, although some hospitals issue them with cleaners’ overalls.

The low wages and poor working conditions on offer have left many Cuban hospitals unable to recruit cleaning staff. (See also Cracks Show in Cuban Healthcare System.)

Five medical institutions are involved in the scheme – Calixto García, Manuel Fajardo and a cancer hospital in Havana’s Playa municipality, and the Workers’ Maternity and the Juan Manuel Márquez pediatric hospital, both in Marianao.

A staff member member with the Calixto García administration said the new workers were behaving respectfully, adding, “None of them wants to lose this job.”

One of the prisoners working as a cleaner at the maternity hospital said she was happy enough with her job.

“At least we get some air,” she said. "We get to see people and earn a little money."

Augusto César San Martin Albistur is an independent journalist in Cuba.


This article first appeared on IWPR's website.

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