Puerto-Ric0-Detention-Center The MDC’s isolation area has a capacity for 1,000 inmates. Since the pandemic started, only 800 have been allowed in the space to keep a safe distance between prisoners.
Image via AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo

Some of the 40 convicts tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in Puerto Rico. Local federal authorities claim they were not told about the transfer.

SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico federal authorities requested a cessation of the transfer of inmates from the mainland to the island after seven tested positive for COVID-19.

Last week, 40 convicts were flown to the island by the feds and transported to the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Guaynabo.

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According to Gustavo Gelpí, chief judge of the United States District Court for Puerto Rico, all the inmates were tested for COVID-19 upon arrival. Seven of them tested positive.

Gelpí expressed concern regarding the move and claimed that no one in Puerto Rico requested the transfer of these inmates. 

“None of the judges in Puerto Rico asked for anyone to be brought here for sentencing. From the beginning of the pandemic, we agreed with the marshals to not bring more convicts to Puerto Rico, so that there would be more space within the MDC. The idea was to avoid crowding the isolation area. Nobody asked for these people to come,” Gelpí told El Vocero newspaper.

“None of the judges in Puerto Rico asked for anyone to be brought here for sentencing,” Gelpí told El Vocero newspaper.

According to The Virgin Islands Daily News, the MDC is also dealing with a tuberculosis outbreak. The newspaper cited documents filed in the U.S. District Court.

These are the events known since the prisoners arrived on the island:

  • Gelpí confirmed that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) transferred 40 inmates from Florida on a federal airplane without informing the MDC administration.
  • The convicts were taken to the MDC isolation area. They don’t have contact with the regular inmate population.
  • The new seven cases of COVID-19 add up to a total of 10 prisoners infected at the MDC. All the ill convicts were recently transferred to the island. Before then, no positive cases of the coronavirus infection had been registered in the detention center.
  • The first inmate to test positive was a man arrested in a boat carrying a shipment of drugs two weeks ago. He was coming from the Dominican Republic.
  • According to Gelpí, the MDC administration asked for all transfers to be stopped since the pandemic began in order to manage available space in the detention center.
  • The MDC’s isolation area has a capacity for 1,000 inmates. Since the pandemic started, only 800 have been allowed in the space to keep a safe distance between prisoners. Gelpí said the risk of a full area is real after the transfer. “We are concerned that now we are filling up the isolation area, and it becomes a kind of hospital. The space where new arrests are held is also compromised,” Gelpí told El Nuevo Día.
  • The chief judge said he checked in with the MDC, the U.S. marshals, the public defender’s office, and the federal prosecutor to see if they had requested the transfers. All of them claimed that they had not.
  • The 40 inmates are waiting for sentencing. However, the court is closed, Gelpí explained, and therefore all hearings are done by video-conference.
  • The judge told El Vocero that the Puerto Rico District Court is waiting for an answer from federal authorities regarding transfers to the island: “A strong message has been sent to the Federal Justice Department from all respective federal officials—this cannot happen anymore. We are expecting confirmation from the department [this week].” 
  • Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr, who is the secretary of the Department of Justice; Michael Carvajal, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons; and Donald Washington, director of the U.S. Marshals Service, asking for the transfer of inmates to stop.

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