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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Senate leader: PDP warned in 2011 of foreboding Penal Code changes

Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago

By The Star Staff

Senate President José Luis Dalmau Santiago pointed out on Sunday that the case of the questionable release of Hermes Ávila Vazquez under the Extended Pass Program and the unfortunate death of Ivette Joan Meléndez Vega is the result of public policies that make it easier for convicted criminals to be released from prison.

He said it began with the approval of the Penal Code and Reorganization Plan No. 2-2011.

Dalmau Santiago said the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) delegation in the Senate voted against the new Penal Code in 2011.

“We argued that the New Penal Code, far from promoting more severe penalties, made possible the prompt release of convicted individuals to the free community,” the Senate president pointed out.

Dalmau Santiago emphasized that the foundations of an analysis that said the New Penal Code and Reorganization Plan No. 2-2011 was going to promote a rapid release of inmates was the adoption of mechanisms such as the granting of sentence reduction for study, work and other activities, providing that the inmate can qualify for diversion programs by serving only 20% of his sentence, as well as other initiatives that promoted the prompt release of the inmate, among other issues.

In the explanatory vote, he said the PDP warned at that time that it was the Corrections and Rehabilitation Administration through Article 16 of Reorganization Plan No. 8 (which became 11) which, after a convict serves 20% of the sentence imposed, could send him to a diversion program, turning the sentence handed down into a mockery of justice and opening the doors of prisons for convicted criminals and releasing them without rehabilitation.

“This is bad public policy,” Dalmau Santiago reiterated.“The passage of time proved us right. From a prison population of 12,551 in 2013 and 12,381 in 2015, it had been reduced to about 7,334 by April 2024. That is, in 11 years the number of those confined in penal facilities has been dramatically reduced by 41 percent. However, criminal activity has not decreased, but continues to increase, [and] we see that criminal investigation and prosecution activities are increasingly less effective because the number of case filings has decreased.”

“The picture becomes even more complicated for our citizens who feel vulnerable due to the high incidence of crime if we add to this that criminals who are finally subjected to a criminal process and sentenced have the opportunity to promptly comply with their sentence or quickly benefit from programs that allow them to be released thanks to the benefits of the 2012 Penal Code and Reorganization Plan No. 2-2011,” the Senate leader added.

Dalmau Santiago stressed that the Ávila Vazquez case is a regrettable example of what was anticipated in 2011, since using the mechanisms that promote the prompt release of the inmate, along with evaluation processes that have shown severe deficiencies and minimal supervision of the released convict, call into question the shift toward lenience at the expense of the adequate protection of citizens.

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