EDITORIAL - Congested jails

The Philippine Star
EDITORIAL - Congested jails

Some improvement has been recorded, but the current jail congestion rate of 397 percent, while down from 438 percent in 2019, is still not much to crow about.

The congestion rate for this month, as reported by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, makes it a daunting challenge for the agency to comply with the United Nations’ standard minimum rules on the treatment of inmates as well as the BJMP’s own rules on the provision of habitat, water, sanitation and kitchen facilities in jails.

The situation is just slightly better at the national prisons operated by the Bureau of Corrections, but congestion is the worst in the BJMP jails that hold mostly suspects and defendants still facing investigation or court trial.

Decongestion is not entirely in the hands of the BJMP, which is under the Department of the Interior and Local Government. The most obvious solution – the construction of new detention facilities – will require substantial additional funding and resources. The Commission on Human Rights is pushing for penal reforms, such as non-custodial alternatives to detention for minor cases   and the expedited release of qualified detainees, which require action from administrators of the judiciary.

Jail congestion was at its worst at the height of the war on drugs under the Duterte administration, when suspects were rounded up en masse and tossed behind bars. Images at the time showed mostly half-naked inmates taking turns to sleep in jails with barely elbow room to move.

The situation has since eased, but state auditors have also reminded the BJMP to address jail congestion. In its 2021 report, the Commission on Audit noted that of 474 jails nationwide, 71 percent or 337 were overcrowded. The COA pointed out that the BJMP’s own manual places the ideal habitable floor area per inmate at 4.7 square meters. “Ideal” is the operative word.

There are people in this country who think murderers, rapists, drug dealers and other lawbreakers deserve to rot in hell. Rodrigo Duterte, with his take-no-prisoners approach to criminality, remained hugely popular until his retirement.

Still, modern penology places emphasis on rehabilitation of prisoners. The idea is that convicts deserve a second chance after punishment. Also, most of the inmates in BJMP facilities have not yet been convicted, and a number of them could be innocent. The penal system is supposed to be anchored on justice, and there is no justice in cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.


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