Issue of September 15, 2019
     
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EDITORIAL

REFORMING THE COUNTRY’S CORRECTIONAL SYSTEM


Unless and until governments such as ours are able to figure out ways to stop the culture of greed and destroy the web of corruption, the stream of anomalies and scams surfacing recently at the Senate hearings from within the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), our country’s main penitentiary facility will be a recurring problem.

It is about time that we admit that irregularities within our penal system have existed for so long it is now the norm, a culture of its own within prisons and jails, which makes a mockery of the noble intentions of the five pillars of the criminal justice system: the community, law enforcement, prosecution, courts, and corrections. We think, unfortunately, that none of the stakeholders can claim having performed their duties well and without infractions.

Denying the anomalies exposed at the Senate hearings based on the accounts of inmates, involving no less the ranking officials and the lower skeletal force of the NBP who are supposed to uphold the correctional aspect of criminal justice, would be a futile exercise, if not deserving of the retort “Tell that to the marines.”

Anomalies such as bribes to jail guards to allow entry and of prohibited goods such as shabu and other forms of illegal drugs and activities in prisons and temporary detention centers throughout the country, authorized “unauthorized” trips out and back to jail, up to “freedom for sale” as claimed by inmates and the near release of rape and murder convict former mayor Antonio Sanchez are some untold stories that everybody knows or can safely assume.

This is not to mention how innovative some hardened criminals, who continue committing crimes, have become even when they are already locked up, and the presumed failure of the Bureau of Corrections and its divisions to do their duty to help these individuals realize their sins, to reform, and be prepared for their reintegration in the community.

How grave and widespread the problem have become may be indicated by the Baguio Jail Management and Penology’s recent appeal for help from the city government in curbing the perennial problem on the entry of what they call “nuisance contraband items” at the Baguio City Jail, which led to the sponsoring of a proposal “seeking to impose a penalty to visitors of inmates and visitors of residents of reformatory centers in the city, who do not follow the standard operating procedure set by the City Jail Warden’s Office.”

The city jail warden told the council that while the facility has a standard operating procedure in preventing the entry of contraband as provided for in its guidelines, they need to come up with a strong measure that will give teeth or will intensify the policy by having an ordinance that provides for penalties.

The government arm should realize that it has a mandate to manage its affairs, therefore it could regulate and has the power to impose penalties if its policies are violated, such as prohibiting entry of items that are not illegal, but are among the liberties the person has been deprived of as payment for wrongdoing.

In all fairness, we recognize the move of the BJMP Baguio management because it shows that it is doing something to cleanse its facility of irregularities. It is specially a welcome move as it supports some of the best practices it has initiated, both at the male and female wards, in terms of reformation and productivity of inmates.

However, we believe the city council should carefully study if there is a need for the ordinance, since it would entail use of government resources that may not be necessary when it is more practical for the BJMP to be the one giving teeth to its internal measures to make it stronger.

Who knows, our city could set another best practice that could push its counterparts to think that the deeply-rooted problem in our criminal justice system may be difficult to solve, but possible.

 

 

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