The Stepping Stones to Solve Jail Overcrowding:
Limitations in Legislation and Litigation
“There is no humane punishment without a horizon.
No one can change their life if they don’t see a horizon.
And so many times we are used to blocking the view of our inmates.
Take this image of the windows and the horizon
and ensure that in your countries the prisons always have a window and horizon.
even a life sentence – which for me is questionable – even a life sentence would have to have a horizon.”
– Pope Francis
The problem of jail congestion is often set aside and ignored in the Philippines. It is a longstanding issue that remains unaddressed by the government, with statistics showing congested jails since the 1990s. The Senate finance committee hearings reveal the lack of enthusiasm in even attempting to resolve the issue. On October 2020, jails chief Director Allan Iral pointed out that the allotments made by the Department of Budget Management (DBM) for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) only corresponded to the creation of perimeter fences. The meager allotment goes to show that despite the overwhelming congestion rate of about 400%, the plans to expand the correctional facilities in the Philippines remain as blueprints. This rate translates to six detainees sharing a space made only for one detainee. A Commission on Audit (COA) report further reveals that the completion of forty nine (49) infrastructure projects with a total contract cost of P2,762,141,293.54 was delayed. This effectively hampered BJMP’s objective of providing a functional and responsive jail facility to Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDL) pursuant to Section 63 of R.A. 6975.
The issue of overcrowding, however, does not solely stem from the government’s budgetary constraints. While the allotment of additional funds leads to the establishment of more spacious facilities, these efforts and resources will be for naught if the same is continuously occupied by an increasing number of detainees whose cases are still ongoing. With the clogged dockets of Philippine courts, there is a good chance that these detainees will stay behind bars for a relatively long time. If there are no alternatives to confinement in jails, then the newly constructed facilities are bound to be crowded.
Extreme congestion poses serious threats to the life and health of detainees due to sanitation issues as viruses—like COVID-19—and other contagious diseases spread easily. Hence, they should have a remedy under the law, when necessary, to obtain transfers or temporary release from confinement upon sufficient showing of such dangers.
The entitlement of detainees to basic human rights, such as humane and healthy living conditions, is anchored in the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, Philippine Statutes and Regulations, and in International Law. However, the fact that the issue remains unresolved and that it worsens over time indicates that the relevant Constitutional and statutory provisions are not brought to life as intended by their makers. Since jail congestion involves the life and liberty of persons, society as a whole—both the public and the private sector—must treat it as a matter of great importance. It seems that society at large has yet to launch an aggressive campaign that advocates for a detainee’s human rights.
The author submits that while the allotment of additional facilities is necessary to alleviate the congestion rates at present, the detainees should also have a recourse under the law to enforce their rights in case overcrowding poses a threat to their life and health. Additionally, coming up with alternatives to confinement might provide long-term solutions to jail overcrowding.
Cindy Wooden, Concern for inmates, prison reform is obligatory act of mercy, pope says, (November 8, 2019), https://www.ncronline.org/news/justice/francis-chronicles/concern-inmates-prison-reform-obligatory-act-mercy-pope-says.
 Rambo Talabong, No budget for new PH jails in 2021 despite over congestion, (October 1, 2020) https://www.rappler.com/nation/no-budget-for-new-ph-jails-in-2021-despite-over-congestion.
 Rambo Talabong, Jodesz Galivan, and Lian Buan, ‘Takot na takot kami’: While government stalls, coronavirus breaks into PH jails, (April 18. 2020), https://www.rappler.com/newsbreak/in-depth/while-government-stalls-coronavirus-breaks-into-philippine-jails.
Commission on Audit, Annual Audit Report on the BJMP: Executive Summary, https://www.coa.gov.ph/phocadownloadpap/userupload/annual_audit_report/NGAs/2019/National-Government-Sector/Department-of-the-Interior-and-Local-Government/BJMP_ES2019.pdf, (last accessed June 20, 2021).
 Dr. Raymund Narag, A HUMANITARIAN CRISIS, A MONSTER IN OUR MIDST. State of the PH in 2018: Our jails are now world’s most congested, (July 23, 2018), https://pcij.org/article/923/state-of-the-ph-in-2018-our-jails-are-now-worlds-most-congested.
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