COA: Philippines jails 511% congested

Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star
COA: Philippines jails 511% congested

In its annual audit report released yesterday, COA noted that the number of inmates increased by 30,544 from 2015. Efigenio Toledo IV/File

MANILA, Philippines - The country’s jails are overcrowded by 511 percent, according to the Commission on Audit (COA).

In its annual audit report released yesterday, COA noted that the number of inmates increased by 30,544 from 2015.

“As of Dec. 31, 2016, the BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology) has a total jail population of 126,946, which exceeded the total ideal capacity of 20,746, having a variance of 106,200 or a total average of 511 percent of congestion/overcrowding or clogging,” the report said.

The COA said the overcrowding in the country’s district jails, city jails, municipal jails, extension jails and female dormitories violates BJMP’s own Manual on Habitat, Water, Sanitation and Kitchen in Jails as well as the United Nations’ Minimum Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

Under the BJMP manual, the ideal habitable floor area for each inmate is 4.7 square meters while the ideal maximum number of inmates per cell should only be 10.

The COA noted that the congestion in jails is resulting in “health and sanitation problems and increased gang affiliation of inmates.”

“To sustain survival, inmates hold on to gangs or ‘pangkat’ where they find protection, network of social support and most important, access to material benefits, which are scarce in highly congested facilities,” the COA said in its report.

The audit team recorded the highest congestion rate in Region 3 with total population of 12,490 inmates versus its total ideal capacity of 1,178 or a variance of 11,312 inmates (961 percent congested); followed by Region 1 with total population of 4,962 inmates against its total ideal capacity of 528 inmates (840 percent congested); and Region 9 with 5,575 inmates against its total ideal capacity of 691 inmates (707 percent congested).

The jails in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), on the other hand, remain in favorable condition for the whole year with 278 inmates, slightly over its total capacity of 275 or just one percent congestion rate.

Drug war, slow moving cases

State auditors attributed the jail congestion mainly to the “increase in the number of drug-related cases in the country” as well as the courts’ slow or no action on the pending cases “due to lack of judges, postponement of hearings and the slow disposition of criminal cases that carry the penalty of reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment.”

“Some cases were bailable but detainees who are below poverty line cannot afford to post bail so they were stuck in the jails,” the report said.

The lots where some jail buildings were constructed “were of limited space, hence, construction or expansions horizontally of the said buildings may not be possible.”

Unfinished constructions 

The COA noted that the construction of two bigger jail buildings in Region 1, specifically in the municipalities of Malasiqui and Urbiztondo in Pangasinan, remains uncompleted despite the total funding of P1.388 million way back in 1996 and 1999, respectively.

State auditors said funding of P576,200 was also allocated to Region 13 for a municipal jail in Alegria, Surigao del Norte but the project remains unfinished 16 years after construction began.

Four more jails in Region 6 with total funding of P12.388 million and two more jails in Region 9 with a funding of P4.826 million and P8.893 million, respectively, “failed to meet the completion target dates” stated in the contracts.

The audit body recommended to the BJMP to speed up the ongoing construction of more jail buildings and to scout for possible lot donations from the local government units for additional jail sites.

The COA also urged the BJMP to improve the implementation of its existing programs to decongest jail cells such as the Good Conduct Time Allowance and the release on recognizance, which both allow compliant inmates’ early release from detention in exchange for rendering community service activities and paying other obligations.

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