The Commission on Audit (COA) said that Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) jails have exceeded their total ideal capacity threatening the health of inmates.
The observation was made under the Value for Money Audit in COA’s report on the BJMP for 2016.
“The total jail population of 126,946 as of December 31, 2016 exceeded the total ideal capacity of 20,746 with a variance of 106,200 or a total average occupancy rate of 511 percent did not conform with the BJMP Manual on Habitat, Water, Sanitation and Kitchen in Jails and with the United Nations Minimum Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, resulting in unhealthy living conditions of the inmates caused by heavy congestion,” the COA report said.
Rule 10 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners provides that accommodation provided for prisoners’ use shall meet health requirements, “due regard being paid to climatic conditions and particularly to cubic content of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation.”
According to Paragraph 4 Chapter I of BJMP manual, the ideal habitable floor area per inmate is 4.7 square meters. The maximum number of inmates per cell is 10.
“Congestion in jails lead not only to health and sanitation problems but also to increased gang affiliation of inmates. To sustain survival, inmates hold on to gangs or ‘pangkat’ where they find protection, network of social support and most important, access to material benefits, which are scarce in highly congested facilities,” the report said.
BJMP jails are comprised of district jails, city jails, municipal jails, extension jails, and female dormitories, according to the audit report. Each jail, it said, has a different lot area, floor area and cell area.
“Region 3 topped the area with the most overcrowded jails followed by Region 1; Region 9 ranked third. The jails in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) remained uncongested for the whole year despite the increase in jail population,” COA said.
Based on the audit report, the BJMP’s Regional Office (RO) 3 had a congestion rate of 961 percent with a jail population of 12,490 and a total ideal capacity of 1,178 in 2016.
RO 1 had an 840-percent congestion rate with a jail population of 4,962 and a total ideal capacity of 528, while RO 9 had a 707-percent congestion rate with a jail population 5,575 and a total ideal capacity of 691.
Meanwhile in the ARMM, the congestion rate was one percent in 2016 with a jail population of 278 and a total ideal capacity of 275.
“The jail populations for the year increased in various months attributed to the increase in the number of drug-related cases in the country as well as the court’s slow or no action on the pending cases due to lack of judges, postponement of hearings and the slow disposition of criminal cases that carry the penalty of reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment. Other reason for increase in jail populations are the non-movement or non-release on bail of detainees due to poverty. Some cases were bailable but detainees who are below poverty line cannot afford to post bail so they were stocked in the jails,” COA said.
“Moreover, lots where some jail buildings were constructed were of limited space, hence, construction or expansions horizontally of the said buildings may not be possible,” it added.
According to COA, the BJMP is implementing the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) which is a privilege given to an inmate that encourages him or her to attend activities inside the jail facility in order to become productive while serving or waiting for his or her sentence.
“The activities include livelihood training programs, Alternative Learning System (ALS), religious activities, sports and other programs for the rehabilitation and development of detainees outside their cell and also one way to decongest them for a while,” COA said.
“By participating in the literacy skills and values development programs, a prisoner is granted points equivalent to be deducted from the timetable of serving in the jail at the start of his/her incarceration,” it added.
COA thus recommended that the BJMP “implement immediately the construction of more jail buildings/cells; scout for possible lot donations from the Local Government Units for additional jail sites for the construction of more jail buildings/cells; and enhance and intensify the GCTA process and give more emphasis on the Recognizance Act for detainees’ early release without necessarily completing their sentence which could significantly reduce jail population and congestion.”
Recognizance is a way of securing the release of a detainee who cannot afford to post bail because of abject poverty.
To address the problem of congestion in jails, the BJMP said that funds were allocated for the construction of more jail buildings for 2016.
Paralegal services were also provided to detainees to fast-track the hearings of their cases and their modes of releases, it added.
“RO 1 was also exerting effort to implement the action plans, programs and strategies re: “Oplan Hatak Mula Sa Batak,” as a Decongestion Strategy for Inmates with Drug-Related Cases, pursuant to BJMP-NHQ Memorandum dated September 1, 2016,” the BJMP said.
NHQ is National Headquarters.
The National Capital Region (NCR) has also adopted measures to minimize the effects of congestion such as the vigorous implementation of the BJMP Paralegal Program “through continuous coordination with courts for the speedy disposition of inmates[‘] cases and strict implementation of laws on decongestion.”
Another measure adopted by the NCR was the construction of more cells and the “conversion of some offices areas to additional cell areas for inmates such as in” the Quezon City Jail (CJ) Female Dormitory (FD), Muntinlupa CJ Male Dormitory (MD), Manila CJ FD, Rodriguez Municipal Jail, and Las Piñas CJ MD.
There is the continuous coordination the local government unit (LGU) for lot donation and/or jail construction. “In San Juan CJ, the construction of the new jail, courtesy of the LGU, is expected to be completed by 2018,” the BJMP said.
“The same proposal was reiterated to the current administration and it is fortunate that the same was given priority…BJMPRO 9 is one of the top five congested region, therefore construction of Jail Buildings in the region were included in the Bureau’s Operations Plan and Budget for FY 2017,” it said. FY is fiscal year.