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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Corrections refers alleged suicide of female prison inmate to Special Investigations Bureau

Correction and Rehabilitation Secretary Ana Escobar Pabón

By The Star Staff

Correction and Rehabilitation (DCR) Secretary Ana Escobar Pabón on Thursday referred to the Special Investigations Bureau (NIE by its Spanish initials) of the Department of Public Safety (DSP) the findings of the DCR’s preliminary report related to the death of 23-year-old inmate Shannel Colón Ponce with the purpose of conducting an investigation.

“The Office of Special Investigations of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation conducted an administrative investigation and yesterday issued a partial report on what happened before, during and after this unfortunate event,” Escobar Pabón said in a written statement. “In addition, it includes a description of the alleged actions of the [DCR] employees who worked that day. The DCR investigation seeks to detect administrative failures, while the investigation that I requested from the NIE covers the criminal angle.”

The DCR secretary added that the referral seeks to broaden the perspective of the investigation and guarantee the public regarding the purity and transparency with which the facts were handled. The objective is for the NIE “to determine whether negligence was involved in the actions of the officials who worked on the day of the events and, if so, to establish responsibilities through the relevant agencies,” she said.

Escobar Pabón said the DCR is continuing its investigation in close collaboration with the Institute of Forensic Sciences, the Puerto Rico Police and the DCR’s Office of Investigations, all of which visited the Women’s Rehabilitation Complex in Bayamón on Wednesday.

Previously, New Progressive Party (NPP) Rep. Wanda del Valle Correa said she would push for a probe into jail conditions following the death of Colón Ponce, who died in circumstances that have yet to be explained.

Colón Ponce’s alleged suicide on June 2 at the Bayamón complex for women continues to raise questions as authorities insist on keeping it under wraps instead of presenting evidence dispelling the possibility that she may have been the victim of corruption.

The young woman’s family has maintained a vigil in front of the prison where she died.

While Colón Ponce’s death has been described as a suicide, relatives of the deceased young woman, who suffered from mental illness, said they have received information that she was beaten to death by prison guards because of her defiant behavior.

A video allegedly made by some female inmates whose faces cannot be identified in social media says that Colón Ponce was murdered by a correctional officer. The female inmates also alleged that they are the victims of abuse.

“My solidarity goes to Shannel’s family in this moment of pain,” del Valle said this week. “As a representative, I am calling on the pertinent authorities to conduct a serious investigation into this fact and that her body be delivered to the family, after an autopsy is performed.”

The NPP lawmaker said she will promote a legislative investigation into the conditions of the women’s prison and the treatment that the inmates are receiving.

“As a staunch advocate for women, I will ensure that women prisoners across the country are treated with dignity and their rights are respected,” she added. “The system has to guarantee their safety and physical and emotional integrity.”

According to preliminary information, the young woman died in the middle of a supervised transfer to her cell and at a time when the prison’s video cameras were not working due to an apparent power failure.

“The security protocols must be reviewed; if they are failing they must be reviewed immediately,” the lawmaker said. “What we are talking about is the life of a young woman who deserved more and who, evidently, they failed her.”

Del Valle also requested that another investigation be opened into the increase in deaths in the island’s penal institutions, which according to statistics provided are up to 40 so far this year and are on pace to reach more than 80 by December.

“It is extremely worrying that, to this day, there are so many unsolved deaths, so it is worth investigating and correcting the errors in the system,” said the representative for the towns of Carolina, Canóvanas and Trujillo Alto.

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