Press Release
August 4, 2016

PH jails packed 4 times their capacity; Digong
urged to free sick, old prisoners

Imagine five prisoners crammed into one square meter of jail space.

Senate Minority Leader Ralph Recto cited the congestion rate in the four most tightly-packed jails in the country in prodding government to initiate reforms in the country's penal system which, with 135,000 inmates, are almost at four times their capacity.

Recto said it is no longer accurate to call our prisons "parang sardinas sa sikip." The correct term, he said, is "daig pa ang siniksik na longganisa."

One of the quick fixes Recto is proposing is for President Duterte to grant parole or pardon to "old, infirm, or gravely- or terminally-ill prisoners," especially those who are not guilty of heinous crimes.

If Duterte is planning to release so-called "political prisoners" as part of the trust-building steps to cinch a peace deal with Communists, "then he must set in motion a process that will grant liberty to prisoners sick of cancer, the aged, the infirm, those who can be freed on humanitarian grounds."

Duterte's predecessor, President Aquino, exercised his power to grant executive clemency only 67 times during his six years in office, according to an official report.

"It is one record," Recto said, "President Digong can easily top. And he must use this power to forgive lonely, old, sick and infirm inmates who have paid their debt to society."

In a resolution, Recto urged the Senate to probe "the worsening conditions" in the country's prisons which will cost taxpayers P10.1 billion to maintain this year.

Another compelling reason why prisons must be reformed is their expected intake of thousands of new inmates, Recto said.

With the administration's war on crime and illegal drugs netting thousands, many of whom may be jail-bound, "there's a need to find space for them because our standing-room-only prisons are filled to the rafters," Recto said.

Two government agencies run the "prison republic" - the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), which is under the Department of Interior and Local Government, and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), which is attached to the Department of Justice.

Detainees awaiting trial and those who have been sentenced by the courts to serve time for three years and below are committed to BJMP. It had 93,961 detainees under its care in September last year.

Those who have been sentenced to more than three years and one day in prison are sent to eight BuCor facilities. More than half, or 23,749 of BuCor's 2016 prisoner population of 41,207 are in the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.

BJMP jails are 397 percent over capacity, Recto said. "Cells built for 18,881 prisoners now house 93,961."

Prison manuals call for an ideal cell space of 4.7 square meters per detainee but based on official BJMP reports, the national average is 1 square meter per BJMP detainee.

Citing BJMP data, Recto said the top four most congested BJMP jails - in Malolos City, Bulacan; San Pedro, Laguna; General Trias, Cavite; and the female dormitory of Quezon City Jail - have a congestion rate of 2,000 percent.

575 women prisoners in the Quezon City jail are packed into 129 square meters of cell space built for 27, according to the same report Recto cited.

Those ranked 4 to 20 in the list of the most congested BJMP jails have congestion rates of 1,425 percent to 1,765 percent, the senator said.

Over at the BuCor, New Bilibid Prisons reported a congestion rate of 181 percent with 23,749 prisoners staying in the old facility designed to house 8,460.

The Davao Penal Colony, with 6,274 prisoners, has a congestion rate of 265 percent while the Leyte Regional Prison, home to 1,919, said it is 304 percent over capacity.

Overall, BuCor said its overcapacity rate this year is 158 percent.

In the resolution he filed, Recto warned that "deteriorating living conditions in jails and prisons expose detainees and inmates to hazards like the onset of infectious disease epidemic, higher suicide rates, frequent inter-prisoner violence."

"Overcrowding and other problems in the Philippine corrections system could affect the security of the government jail and prison custodians, provide opportunities for acts of corruption, and cause the violation of the normative standards of jail and prison management," he added.

"Instead of rehabilitating prisoners, harsh jail conditions could make them hardened criminals, with jails serving as masteral schools for a career in crime," Recto stressed.

Jail and prison congestion, he said, can be eased by reforming the justice system "so that there will be fast trials, minimum court hearing postponements."

"Yung iba, sampung taon na sa kulungan sa bagal ng usad ng kaso dahil kulang ang judges o tambak ang trabaho nila. Di rin sapat ang PAO lawyers. Pati prosecutors kulang din," Recto said.

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