The Street Children of Puerto Rico, 1940–65

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 8:50 AM
Madison Room B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Solsiree del Moral, Amherst College
A January 1951 San Juan newspaper headline proclaimed: “Adrián Quiñones Released for Good Behavior. In Prison Since the Age of 13, Earns his Freedom at the Age of 32.” The article was intended to highlight the effectiveness of the penal system in Puerto Rico. Quiñones had learned three vocations while in prison and now, due to good behavior, was being released early. For the reporter, Quiñones was a success story. For me, Quiñones represents the horrors suffered by poor children and youth incarcerated and abandoned in Puerto Rico’s jails and reform institutions. Why was a thirteen-year old child imprisoned alongside adults? What did he experience and how did he survive those nineteen years?

My paper stems out of my book project, titled Street Children, Crime, and Punishment, which examines the lived experiences of the street children and youth who were incarcerated in adult jails and correctional institutions in post-World War II Puerto Rico. Children and youth in jails and correctional schools suffered from overcrowding, lack of sanitation, poor hygiene, insufficient food, prolonged solitary confinement, physical abuse, and sexual violence. They were imprisoned without due process and housed in underfunded and poorly staffed institutions that lacked basic educational and rehabilitation programs. Scholars recognize the post-World War II era as a time of economic growth, industrialization, urbanization, and social mobility in Puerto Rico. However, the lives of working class and poor children have been omitted from national narratives of progress. At its core, this project explores the penal system from the perspective of those who bore the brunt of it: street children and incarcerated youth.