(El Nuevo Día)

For years, prisons in Puerto Rico have experienced all kinds of crises, from security and health care crisis those involving the very prison governance model facing gangs that sometimes control many decisions in prisons.

For too long, we have wasted the enormous opportunity to have in custody people who have failed society since instead of doing our best to provide them with rehabilitation tools, we keep them in institutions that end up being crime schools.

If, as the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky once said, "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons," considering the state of our prisons, we should sadly conclude that we need to pass a severe judgment on the Puerto Rican society.

The state of our prisons is a huge weight we never decided to lift off ourselves and that we have never had the will to let go of and that does not speak well of us as a society.

The lawsuit filed in 1979 by prisoner Carlos Morales Feliciano in Federal Court demanding humane treatment led, after decades of litigation and multimillion-dollar fines, to the resolution of serious overcrowding problems in prisons back then and made it possible to improve health care services.

However, it is clear that there is still a lot to be done, and now it seems that we are going back again.

In a series of recent stories by El Nuevo Día, relatives of inmates told this newspaper about medical neglect and about deficiencies in the protocols to determine the cause of death of hundreds of people who died behind bars.

This is a very serious problem in any context but it is even more serious when we come across the dreadful fact that only this year 44 inmates died in Puerto Rican prisons. That is more than one per week. It is an unacceptable figure that hurts the heart of our society.

The government of Puerto Rico faces endless challenges, many of them caused by the island´s bankruptcy, but also by the lack of plans, priorities and vision. These serious prison problems must also be urgently addressed, not only because it is humane and fair, but also because of the impact they have on other areas of our social structure.

The custody of people whose actions led them to imprisonment represents a golden opportunity for the state. It should be a priority that while serving their sentences, those people develop the tools that will enable them to get back on the right track once they return the free community, at the end of the day, that will benefit us all.

This is just an example of how the correctional system can do many things for the good of society. We recognize that this is a complex and multifaceted problem that requires a lot of effort and resources. But it must be tackled with sensitivity and efficiency.

Abandoning inmates, and with them, the rest of society is far from being the solution.

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