Prisons, jails should be on heightened alert too vs COVID-19 spike — Kapatid

Prisons, jails should be on heightened alert too vs COVID-19 spike â Kapatid
COVID-19 vaccination at the Manila City Jail as seen in this October 2021 photo release.

MANILA, Philippines — Government should ramp up vaccination and testing in prisons in the face of a surge of COVID-19 cases, rights group Kapatid said Monday, as it warned that overcrowded jails and prisons "create a perfect petri dish to seed immense infections by the highly transmissible Omicron variant."

Citing Commission on Audit findings, Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said that jails in the Philippines hold 115,336 Persons Deprived of Liberty or 403% the ideal number of 34,893. "Conditions are no better at the national penitentiary in New Bilibid Prison (NBP), which holds 28,885 inmates but can only accommodate 6,435," she said.

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology has jurisdiction over jails while the Bureau of Corrections runs prisons and penal colonies.

Lim urged prison and jail auhtorities to vaccinate more PDLs and to test entire prison populations, especially in regions where congestion rates are very high. She said jails in the Calabarzon region are 619% full while those in Central Luzon are at 609% capacity. Jails in Metro Manila are at 595% capacity.

"Three of the six political prisoners who died during the pandemic came from provincial or national jails in each of these regions—Quezon, Pampanga and NBP Muntinlupa. But until now, we don't know the full extent of COVID-related deaths and illnesses inside prisons due to the absence of systematic testing while immunization rates are still slow," she also said.

Kapatid has been pushing to include PDLs in priority sectors for vaccination against the coronavirus but that "rollout in prison facilities lags behind the national vaccination drive as prisons are largely dependent on the LGUs for vaccine support." She attributed the slow rollout to prejudice against prisoners and because they do not vote. 

According to BuCor, more than 25,000 PDLs or 51.95% of the 48,572 inmates in its facilities have completed their doses against COVID-19. At the New Bilibid Prison, the country’s national penitentiary, the vaccination rate has gone up to 33%. The government has so far fully vaccinated 9,427 out of the 28,542 inmates in the four facilities of Bilibid.

"While the BJMP claims that around 61% or 76,084 of 125,082 inmates in its facilities have received their full doses of the COVID-19 vaccines, the Omicron wave of infections can fast overwhelm this," Lim said.

In 2020, the Supreme Court ordered an inventory of cases to find PDLs who could already be released to decongest jails and prisons.





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