Yamsuan seeks creation of Department of Corrections to unite PH jail management system

July 31, 2023 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 149 views

BICOL Saro Rep. Brian Raymund Yamsuan has proposed the integration of the government’s corrections, jail and probation management systems into a single Cabinet-level agency to finally address the longstanding problems of congestion, abuse and corruption in the penal facilities.

Yamsuan said his office is now in the process of drafting the bill that aims to create this proposed Department of Corrections, which he broached during a recent House Committee on Justice briefing on the state of the New Bilibid Prisons (NBP) and other jails in the country.

Dr. Raymund Narag, a recognized international criminology expert and a former detainee, conducted the briefing, which showed the appalling conditions inside the NBP and other jails.

These conditions are the result of the overly high congestion rate in these prisons, the lack of personnel and financial resources, and other structural deficits that breed corruption and irregular practices often tolerated by corrections officials to enable them and their detainees to survive in poorly maintained facilities, Narag said.

“Dr. Narag’s comprehensive briefing is a wake-up call for us in Congress to address once and for all the perennial problems that have long plagued our penal facilities.

The problems enumerated by Dr. Narag are also the same problems that we in the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) have encountered in district, city and municipal jails nationwide and tried to find solutions to more than 10 years ago under then Secretary Ronnie Puno,” said Yamsuan, a former DILG Assistant Secretary.

“Based on Dr. Narag’s extensive analyses, there appears to be no significant improvements at all in our penal facilities despite the passage of a law in 2013 that aims to strengthen and professionalize the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor),” he added.

Creating a line agency like the Department of Corrections will enable the government to introduce long-due reforms in its fragmented corrections and jail management systems and work on improving the living conditions and rehabilitation programs of persons deprived of liberty (PDLs), Yamsuan said.

The Department will also be able to focus on safeguarding the rights of PDLs, from the time of their detention up to their rehabilitation and reintegration to society, he added.

Yamsuan made the proposal as the House Committee on Public Order and Safety, of which he is also a member, is set to conduct this week a motu proprio inquiry in aid of legislation into the reported disappearance of a PDL and the discovery of mass graves inside the NBP’s maximum security compound.

He said he will closely coordinate with Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla and DILG Secretary Benjamin Abalos Jr. to get their inputs on his proposed Department of Corrections.

The Philippines’ jail management system is disjointed. Its prison and penal facilities are under the BuCor of the DOJ, while its district, city and municipal jails are under the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) of the DILG. The provincial jails are under the supervision of the provincial governments.

According to data from BuCor, the NBP and other penal facilities currently house around 51,500 inmates nationwide. But thetotal capacity of all these jails is estimated at only 12, 250 inmates, which leads to a congestion rate of 321 percent.

The congestion rate alone of the NBP, the largest mega-prison in the world, is at 377 percent as its current population of 30,701 is only enough for 6,500 inmates.

Meanwhile, the ideal custodial officer-to-inmate ratio is 1 is to 7,but in BuCor’s penal facilities, the ratio is at 1 is to 30, according to the bureau’s data.

Narag, in response to Yamsuan’s proposal, agreed that it would be best to create a single authority to manage the government’s jail, corrections and probation systems.

“Looking at the Filipino culture, I do believe that if we get the BJMP out of the DILG, we get the BuCor out of the DOJ, we get the [Board of Pardons and Parole] out of the DOJ, and we get the provincial jails out of the provincial government, and put them all together into one agency, that would be a more systematic way to address the problems,” Narag said.

The chief of the BJMP, Jail Director Ruel Rivera, also backed Yamsuan’s proposal to integrate the country’s fragmented jail management systems.

Bukidnon 2nd District Rep. Jonathan Keith Flores, the chairperson of the House Committee on Government Reorganization, and who was also present at the briefing, said he was looking forward to Yamsuan’s bill on creating this new line agency.

Narag himself is a prime example of the injustices suffered by PDLs as a result of the country’s fragmented and grossly inefficient criminal justice system.

Narag spent seven years of his life in pre-trial detention, after he was suspected of involvement in the death of another student from a rival fraternity. Narag was eventually found innocent of the allegations against him.

During the briefing, lawyer Antonio Pido of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) narrated how the organization had assisted a PDL who had already completed serving his sentence but endured several years more in jail because of the incomplete paperwork for his release, and another who was already in detention but was still known to be “at large” by law enforcement agencies.