Río Piedras State Penitentiary

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Puerto Rico Island Penitentiary
Puerto Rico Island Penitentiary.JPG
Río Piedras State Penitentiary is located in Puerto Rico
Río Piedras State Penitentiary
LocationRío Piedras, San Juan, Puerto Rico
Coordinates18°23′19″N 66°4′15″W / 18.38861°N 66.07083°W / 18.38861; -66.07083Coordinates: 18°23′19″N 66°4′15″W / 18.38861°N 66.07083°W / 18.38861; -66.07083
ArchitectRoldan, Francisco; Higuera, Antonio
Architectural styleArt Deco, Mission/Spanish Revival
NRHP reference #03000100[1]
Added to NRHPMarch 07, 2003

The Río Piedras State Penitentiary, also known as Puerto Rico Island Penitentiary or Oso Blanco (or White Bear in English), was a correctional facility located in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico. The institution opened in 1933 under the government of James R. Beverley, and came to substitute the Puerto Rico Prison established by Spaniards in the 19th century.

In 2004, the Government of Puerto Rico ordered the eviction of the state prison because it was deemed too expensive to readjust the structure to newer and modern facility standards.

In 2014, the government ordered the demolition of the property to make room for a scientific park, "Ciudad de la Ciencias". The College of Architects of Puerto Rico (CAAPPR) expressed their opposition to the demolition.[2][3] The building was demolished in 2015.


In 1926, the Federal Government hired the architect, Francisco Roldán, to design the structure. In a new approach to rehabilitation policies, Roldán added a softer design in contrast to the harsh structures that used to be the prisons of the era.

The construction began officially in 1927 with the overview of a professional contracting agency and the use of prisoner workforce. The total cost of the project was $779,822. The prisoners were also used to cultivate the surrounding grounds in an effort to promote their contribution in the economy of the island.

The building bears a neo-moorish architectural style with touches of art deco accentuated by the main entrance to the complex. There, two female statues guard it from both sides, with a detailed arch that reads above a quote from the known Spanish feminist and sociologist, Concepción Arenal, that reads "Hate the crime and pity the criminal".

The complex featured 332 cells and 12 pavilions, a clinic, a psychiatric hall, a library, classrooms, workshops, a mess hall with capacity for 500 inmates, a kitchen and restrooms, all organized around an interior patio.

The structure also features guerites in the outer facade with bland-colored tiles to contrast its look with its austere appearance.

It was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2003.[1]


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  2. ^ "Arquitectos reiteran rechazo a demolición de "Oso Blanco"". Metro PR.
  3. ^ Press, Danica Coto, The Associated. "Battle rages as Puerto Rico seeks to tear down prison known as 'Alcatraz of the Caribbean'". Ottawa Citizen.

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