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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Decongesting our jails

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Would you believe that some of our detention facilities, particularly in the National Capital Region, are so overcrowded by those facing trial for various criminal offenses, mostly drug cases, and packed like sardines they can barely move in cramped cells?

The problem has gotten so out of hand the government is conducting a National Jail Decongestion Summit until today to address the challenges faced by the country’s penal system.

According to a December 2021 survey, there were 199,079 inmates or persons deprived of liberty, with approximately 179 PDLs per 100,000 people in the population.

Of these, 13,704 are females, constituting 11 percent of the total population of Bureau of Jail Management and Penology jails.

Under the National Building Code, the requirement is about 4.8 square meters per PDL which is very far from what we are seeing now in our jails. In fact, the facilities of both the Bureau of Corrections and BJMP have an average congestion rate of almost 400 percent.

Around 70 percent of BJMP detention facilities are overcrowded, with an average congestion rate of 386 percent. A particularly glaring example is the Quezon City Male Dormitory which has the highest congestion rate at 1,330 percent.

The Department of Justice is spearheading the two-day Summit which ends today.

The importance of this meeting is underscored by the presence of President Marcos Jr. along with Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, and Speaker Martin Romualdez.

The meeting gathers stakeholders, experts, and several government agencies to discuss several strategies, such as reducing prison admissions, increasing inmate releases upon completing their sentences, and expanding jail facility capacity.

The Justice Sector Coordinating Council composed of the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior and Local Government will also ask President Marcos to certify priority legislation in Congress to improve the country’s prison system.

There will be short-term goals as well as long-term goals which the Summit will discuss and thoroughly analyze.

Among the proposed legislation are those creating the Department of Corrections and Penology, the Unified Penology Act, the bill on re-integration and psychosocial rehabilitation of released prisoners, and amendments to the Recognizance Act of 2012.

The Summit is expected to come up with a viable program for decongesting our jails that would include building new facilities nationwide and reviewing the criteria for the early release of detainees and convicts.

Needless to say, this would require close cooperation among the three branches of government—legislative, executive and judicial—to make it really work.

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