Prisoner Transport Deal Could Cost Puerto Rico Over $10 Million: Report

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The island is still reeling from an estimated $95 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Maria last year. Photo by Roosevelt Skerrit via Flickr

The transport by a private corrections company of more than 1,000 prisoners to the U.S. could cost the beleaguered island of Puerto Rico over $10 million, according to the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI). 

During contract negotiations with CoreCivic, one of the leading private corrections firms in the U.S., the government tried to lower the company’s proposed daily fee of between $63 and $67 per inmate.

But the final agreement, not yet signed, has remained more or less the same, Puerto Rico Corrections Secretary Erik Rolón told the CPI, a nonprofit news outlet partnered with the Law Faculty of the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico.

The contract is still pending review by Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Control Board.

“This is a contract that will probably exceed $10 million,” Rolón told CPI. 

Transport flights to Arizona could begin as early as Aug. 15, CPI reported. Authorities said as many as 1,200 prisoners would be sent to Arizona. The island plans to transport a total of 3,200 prisoners, representing 30 percent of the total incarcerated population on the island, to private prisons in the U.S. over the next five years.

Rolón told CPI that the usual regulations governing prisoner transport to the U.S. won’t apply to those inmates in Puerto Rico’s “Out of State” program. Inmates slated for departure still haven’t been given an orientation on their new destination, La Palma Correctional facility in Arizona.

“In the past, what has happened is that [prisoners] were transported to the United States, and when they said—’look, the conditions here are not what you offered, we want to be brought back to Puerto Rico,’ nothing happened,” Thalia Méndez, Corrections Advisor for Puerto Rico’s Legal Aid Society, told CPI.

“The regulation [standards] were never met. Imagine how much worse it will be if those regulations are created after they are already transferred.”

“Our primary concern is that there has not been transparency with regards to which prisoners will ultimately be moved,” said Yahaira Colón, a Legal Aid attorney, in and interview with CPI.

Colón also questioned what will happen to those inmates who have matters still pending before the courts, if the first flight is already scheduled to leave on August 15—and whether they will receive legal representation.

Earlier stories in mainland media said the island was considering “offloading” up to 3,200 prisoners to U.S. private facilities as part of a money-saving plan to close up to one-third of its jails and prisons.

The plan has met with fierce opposition from civil rights groups. In April, more than 50 lawyers, academics and representatives of international human rights groups signed a declaration opposing the transfer, saying it will cause additional hardship to families of prisoners, who will find it difficult to visit them.

“Rehabilitation (of prisoners) should not be subject to an economic rationale,” the declaration said.

The island’s already troubled economy took a severe hit last year from Hurricane Maria. Many of the island’s detention facilities were rendered unusable by the September 20, 2017 storm. On Wednesday, in a report to Congress, Puerto Rican authorities released figures showing that 1,427 people more people died in the four months following the hurricane than in the similar period a year earlier—effectively the first concrete acknowledgement of Maria’s death toll.

Reports also suggested an upsurge in crime and domestic violence following the storm.

In May 2017, the Commonwealth declared what was essentially a form of bankruptcy in order to cope with an estimated $123 billion in debt and pension obligations, The New York Times reported. 

Adding to the island’s financial burden, addressing the effects of the storm and its aftermath, which left most of the inhabitants without power for weeks and months, will cost up to $95 billion, according to Gov.Ricardo Rosselló—making it one of the five costliest storms in U.S. history.

This summary was prepared and translated from the Spanish original by Victoria Mckenzie, Deputy Editor/Content of The Crime Report.

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