Amid COVID-19 pandemic, BJMP backs jail decongestion but needs further studies
This photo taken on March 27, 2020 shows prison inmates at the crowded courtyard of the Quezon City jail in Manila. UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet has urged countries to protect people held in overcrowded prisons and other enclosed facilities by releasing vulnerable detainees, saying COVID-19 "risks rampaging through such institutions."
AFP/Maria Tan
Amid COVID-19 pandemic, BJMP backs jail decongestion but needs further studies
Kristine Joy Patag ( - April 8, 2020 - 2:40pm

MANILA, Philippines — While the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology said it supports measures to decongest jails, it stressed studies need to be done to ensure that propositions are within laws.

A group of vulnerable and at-risk prisoners on Wednesday knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court that they may be temporarily released amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Petitioners are praying for a fair chance at surviving the devastating impact of the COVID-19 outbreak in spaces that are not blighted with the overcrowding and lack of access to hygiene measures and medical care,” their plea read.

BJMP spokesperson Xavier Solda told reporters that one of the issue the BJMP will look into is how to prove that those who will be released after detention or conviction for low-level and non-violent offense “will not endanger the public or at the very least, will not commit any crime during this public health emergency.”

Solda also raised assurances that those given with temporary liberty will return when asked.

“Should they be temporarily released, can the group who is calling for it, assure the public that those people will return immediately once asked to return?” Solda added.

The bureau spokesperson also echoed Interior and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año’s statement that inmates are safer in prison than outside.

“If they will be out, as some groups is proposing, how can these groups assure the public that those PDL who will be released will not contract [sic] the virus?” he added.

Overcrowded jails

The petitioners pointed out that social distancing—or keeping six feet distance from each other—is “practically impossible” in Philippine jails that are already operating at overcapacity.

They raised that the BJMP, which oversees city, district and municipal jails, already stated they are housing five times more detainees than its intended capacity.

The International Committee of the Red Cross noted that as of March 19, 2020, BJMP’s 467 jails are at 534% congestion rate.

Solda however said that the bureau is doing its best in implementing precautionary measures amid the outbreak and said that to date, there is no confirmed COVID-19 case inside the jails.

Earlier this week, the Quezon City Jail placed 15 inmates under isolation after they came in contact with an inmate who died of suspected COVID-19 on March 25.

The new coronavirus has infected 3,764 in the Philippines. Death toll is at 177 while 84 have so far recovered.

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