Senate passes legislation to release certain inmates during pandemic emergency

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The Senate today approved in its Ordinary Session, the Senate Bill 1584 authored by the senator, Héctor Martínez Maldonado who amends the “Reorganization Plan of the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation” for the purpose of empowering the Secretary to release those members of the correctional population who qualify when the person who occupies the governorate has declared a state of emergency following a pandemic, a health or public health emergency; establish the criteria to be taken into consideration for said release, in addition to providing those who do not qualify for this process.

According to senator Martínez Maldonado, to the extent of his authorship, “while this situation, the pandemic of COVID-19 is understood, continues to develop, on the one hand, the Government continues to take control measures to ensure a non-tragic outcome to this challenge worldwide, and on the other, they have forgotten various vulnerable sectors of society that cannot protect themselves, and that are in the custody of the State. ”

“We had requested the governor, in this case the secretary of the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, to evaluate the possibility of granting probation to those high-risk inmates in our institutions, as had been done in other countries and jurisdictions of the United States that had used mechanisms to free people over 65 who have compromised immune systems. , that they are not a high risk for our community and that they have a home to reside ”, explained the author of the measure.

Likewise, Martínez Maldonado reported that he received a reply from the Secretary of Correction, Eduardo Rivera Juanatey, where he indicates that he had no power in law to do the same. “Following a request we made a few weeks ago to the DCR secretary, we received a reply informing us that the secretary does not have the mechanisms in law to grant this type of freedom in emergency situations. Given this situation, seeing that there was some kind of obstacle, limitation, through some legal statute we have presented Senate Bill 1584 to empower the correction secretary so that in emergency situations it can somehow grant … parole, “said the legislator.

For his part, the independent senator José Vargas Vidot, He said consider the measure as humanitarian and “gives the opportunity to this Body to adjust to a world trend.” “This measure suits me closely because I saw how in the HIV epidemic many of the people who were incarcerated did not have the opportunity to enter, even in a paleative treatment to die with dignity,” said Vargas Vidot, who in turn applied to be co-author of it.

Meanwhile, the Vice President of the Senate, Henry Neumann He also took a turn on the measure, supporting it and exhorting his colleagues to give an affirmative vote to it.

“This project is very important because there are many people in the prisons of Puerto Rico who should not be there and who served enough time for the crimes committed,” said Neumann Zayas, who insisted that “these people can be very useful in the free community ”.

In accordance with the legislative piece, the secretary may release members of the correctional population who meet at least one (1) of the following requirements:

  1. They have completed eighty (80) percent of the sentence imposed or have twelve (12) months or less remaining to extinguish the sentence.
  2. They are admitted for a non-violent crime.
  3. They suffer from a terminal illness.
  4. Are in the high-risk group, as established by the Puerto Rico Department of Health or by the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Likewise, to qualify for this benefit, the member of the correctional population must have achieved a high degree of rehabilitation and have a viable exit plan that includes, a home to reside, medical treatment if required, among others. The secretary may impose the use of electronic supervision and / or any other condition established in the diversion, probation or parole programs.

“Those members of the correctional population who represent a risk to the community, who have been sued for acts of indiscipline in the last twelve (12) months or have been convicted of crimes of sexual assault, will not qualify for this benefit. In turn, a client who has pending an extradition process to another country or a transfer to the federal authorities, state or territory of the United States may not be released, ”the measure reads.

Another measure related to inmates and that was approved in the Senate is the Senate Resolution 1346 that orders the Public Safety Commission to investigate in an “exhaustive” manner the protection and compliance with the constitutional rights, laws, regulations and norms of this population within the correctional institutions.

In the legislative piece of his authorship, the spokesman for the Majority, Carmelo Ríos Santiago, explained that many inmates and family members have denounced the absence or lack of security among inmates, the use of excessive violence by the officers or correctional officers, and the absence or lack of health services, medical treatment, mental health services, among others.

In the Ordinary Session, several appointments for judges and prosecutors, as well as other measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, were approved.

The Senate recessed until next Thursday, May 14, 2020; at 11:00 am.

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