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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Senate approves measure that would release certain prisoners after emergency declaration of pandemic

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The Senate today passed legislation empowering the secretary of the Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (DCR) to release certain sectors of the prison population after the executive declaration of a state of emergency following a pandemic or other public or sanitary issue.

Since Governor Wanda Vázquez declared the lockdown on March 15, Senator Héctor Martínez Maldonado has led efforts so that – for health and humanitarian reasons – part of the correctional population can finish serving their sentence outside of institutions and thus minimize the risks of spreading the COVID-19.

To this end, he established the Senate Bill 1584 that was endorsed today. “What we are looking for with this legislative measure, is not that an escape valve is used in emergency situations so that anyone can leave, trusting to fulfill part or the rest of the sentence in the free community. Criteria are established as established in the conditions of freedom, probation and electronic supervision programs, “he explained.

The measure comes after the DCR secretary, Eduardo Rivera Juanatey, indicated that the enabling laws prevent him, in his discretionary exercise, from releasing inmates due to a health emergency.

The Senate bill 1584, he explained, establishes the criteria to be taken into consideration for said release, and establishes that inmates who represent a danger to the community, who have had a complaint for acts of indiscipline during the previous 12 months, would not qualify for this benefit. to the approval of the legislation or who have been convicted of crimes of sexual assault. Nor may an inmate who is pending an extradition or transfer process by the federal authorities be released.

Meanwhile, those who meet at least one of five established criteria could benefit from an early release, these being: that they have served 80% of the sentence imposed or that they have 12 months or less to comply with the sentence imposed, that they are admitted for a non-violent crime, suffering from a terminal illness or falling into the high-risk group, as established by the Department of Health or by the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in English).

Likewise, he explained that a requirement is having reached a high degree of rehabilitation and having a viable exit plan that includes a home to reside and medical treatment if required, among other aspects. “I am confident that somehow some people may not only have sensitivity and humanity in times of emergencies, but also respect the constitutional right of every citizen to life, including our inmates. As we continue to expose some high-risk inmates in the country’s penal institutions, we are condemning them to die from this situation, “he said.

The measure also empowers the Secretary of Correction to impose the use of electronic supervision or any other condition established in the diversion, probation or parole programs. In turn, to safeguard the right of crime victims, it will be obliged to notify them of said release.

Independent Senator José Vargas Vidot said the measure is a humanitarian one and gives the Senate the opportunity to move from a punitive vision to one that reconsiders the human being. He recalled that during the strongest crisis due to the HIV epidemic, many of the people incarcerated with the condition did not have the opportunity to receive palliative treatment. “Those people were basically sentenced to death,” he said.

“This is a humanitarian act of pure dignity, it seems to me that it is important to consider that every prison system is a replication of society itself,” said Vargas Vidot.

Another measure validated today was Senate Resolution 1346 that orders the Senate Public Safety Commission to investigate the protection and fulfillment of the rights of inmates. It also orders that the possibility of reviewing the laws, rules and regulations in order to establish a safer and more agile correction system be auscultated.

“What this suggests is to do an x-ray that is a little in tune with what our colleagues Martínez suggests … really see where our x-ray is. The last time a study of the inmate’s profile was made was more than 20 years ago. We have to make an x-ray of who are those people who should be incarcerated … “said Senator Carmelo Ríos, author of the measure.

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