In August, 2016, the international news service Agence France Presse (AFP) released to the world press photos of thousands of prisoners trying to sleep in a basketball court of the Quezon City jail with hardly any space between them, a graphic portrayal of the common expression “packed like sardines.” Even the concrete steps were filled with sleeping bodies, one to each step. There was no way one could move without waking another prisoner.
Human Rights Watch, an international organization, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for its role in the eventual banning of cluster explosives, sent a report along with the AFP photos, basically stating that in QC, Metro Manila, capital of the Philippines, 3,800 inmates were being held in a prison built for only 800.
That was in August, 2016. In the months that followed, the new Duterte administration carried out a nationwide anti-drugs campaign in which thousands were killed, but many more thousands were either arrested or surrendered to the police. Prisons all over the country were filled to overflowing, taxing the resources of local governments. By how much, it could not be accurately determined.
Last week, the Commission on Audit (COA) provided a big part of the answer. After an official audit by its personnel nationwide, the COA said that as of December, 2016, the 463 detention facilities of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) designed to hold 20,746 inmates were packed with 126,946 prisoners. In other words, the jails were overcrowded by 511 percent.
The COA said the overcrowding did not conform with the BJMP’s own Manual on Habitat, Water Sanitation, and Kitchen. It did not conform either with the United Nations Minimum Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.
In its report, the COA suggested that the BJMP construct more jail buildings and cells in new sites and step up its Good Conduct Time Allowances program, under which inmates are released if they have already served the highest possible sentence prescribed by the crime of which they are accused. So many prisoners are in jail because they have no money for bail and so they are detained for years as the courts cannot keep up with their own heavy loads.
The COA report has thus identified two possible areas where something can be done to meet the problem of overcrowded jails – the BJMP and the courts. Both require considerable funding. The problem thus goes up to the Executive, specifically the Department of Budget and Management, to the Judiciary, and to Congress.
It is a total problem requiring the total attention of the entire government.
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