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Digitization of records among measures to decongest crowded jails

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla and Interior Secretary Benhur Abalos Jr. are taking on a challenge that has long plagued the country: the congestion of jails and prisons, often at many times their capacity.

Their plans to address this problem include the long-delayed digitization of carpetas or prison records and the construction of new facilities.

Both the Bureau of Corrections and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology have congestion rates of more than 300%, already an improvement for city and municipal jails that were 612% full in 2017. Remulla said digitized records will make processing records for the release of Persons Deprived of Liberty more efficient and free up space in detention cells.

Digitization

Remulla said he visited on Wednesday the Bureau of Pardons and Parole and the Parole and Probation Administration and he saw carpetas physically being turned over to the offices.

There are more than 30,000 people detained at New Bilibid Prison alone. The number of PDLs in the country's prisons could reach 100,000, which would mean 100,000 folders for their files.

"If this manual [carpeta system] will continue, what will happen to those detained?" Remulla said.

The justice secretary said they also need more manpower in the BPP and PPA to process the releasing of PDLs, which would help decongest BuCor facilities.

Remulla added he already ordered the BuCor to speed up the digitization of carpetas despite initial resistance. "It’s the only way that we can really make things visible online for the BPP, PPA. We’re pushing for this," he continued.

"It’s not a new thing, but for things that have been done for years as manual but we are imposing this as requirement," Remulla also said.

The justice chief said he has also requested for an assistant secretary for digital infrastructure at the department for the digitization of processes from prosecution to correction.

DILG Secretary Abalos said they are also pushing for digitization of records and that the department is discussing it with the Department of Information Communications and Technology. He said this would help harmonize records in bureaus of the DILG and in the DOJ.

Need for land

Abalos said the BJMP, under their department, allocated P6.7 billion to improve and repair jail facilities.

But BJMP Jail Director Allan Iral admitted that they would also need property donations from the LGUs so they can build more facilities for detainees.

They will also focus on plea bargaining, which would allow defendants to plead guilty to a lesser crime for a shorter sentence.

Iral said they are also coordinating with the courts for fast-tracking of hearings to reduce the congestion rates of their facilities.

Abalos said they plan to go around jails across the country to ensure that they have a humane environment.

Remulla, meanwhile, gave this reminder: "Every PDL should have a face to everybody, and not just a number."

BuCor — an agency under the DOJ that handles convicts with prison sentences of more than three years — has a jail congestion rate of 330%, while DILG’s BJMP, which manages prisons for those serving less than three years sentence and undergoing trial has a congestion rate of 387%.

At the onset of the pandemic, the government implemented measures to decongest jails where physical distancing and proper hygiene—deterrent to the spread of the coronavirus—are a luxury. Among those measures was reviewing cases to see which inmates and detainees could already be released from custody and speeding up the disposition of pending cases. 

BENHUR ABALOS

BOYING REMULLA

BUREAU OF CORRECTIONS

BUREAU OF JAIL MANAGEMENT AND PENOLOGY

DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

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