Decongesting 'inferno' jails in the Philippines

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Inmates sleep literally face to face as they are crammed in prison facilities. Hardly anyone can move. Time Magazine compares it to Dante Alighieri's "Inferno" or hell. This is Quezon City Jail.

It now mirrors the generally poor state of jails in the country.

But the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology said improvements are happening soon.

Twenty new prison facilities will be put up this year in Region IV-A or Calabarzon. The region groups the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon.

Government is shelling out ₱336 million for the project. For 2017, it is spending ₱1.6 billion to build 213 jail facilities nationwide.

By the numbers

As of July 2016, there are 115,786 inmates spread out in different prison facilities in the country. Most of them (113,448) are facing trial or awaiting sentence. Convicts number only a little over 2% or 2,338.

Regions 3 (Central Luzon) and 4 (Calabarzon and Mimaropa) and Metro Manila host the most congested jails.

Topping the list are the Baliuag Municipal Jail with 3,079% congestion rate, followed by Malolos City Jail (2,598%) -- both are in Bulacan. Quezon City Jail (2,501%) comes in third.

The Quezon City Jail

Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) Chief Serafin Barretto said new inmates are no longer sent to the Quezon City Jail.

"Ginawa po ng ating warden dyan ay pinakiusapan ang judge na wag na silang mag commit doon. And ilipat o dalhin ang mga inmate, bagong inmates sa Bicutan," Barretto said.

[Translation: What our warden did is ask the judge not to commit there. And to transfer or bring the new inmates to Bicutan.]

Barretto said new inmates will instead be sent to the new provincial facilities.

Logistical issues may arise for inmates that need to appear in Metro Manila courtrooms, but Barretto has a plan to address this.

"Sasabayan po namin yan ng aming programang tele-hearing. Teleconferencing. Na sa palagay ko po maaprubahan yan kasi meron naman pong nangyayari na ganyan sa ibang bansa," he explains.

[Translation: We will do it along with our tele-hearing. Teleconferencing. Which I think will be approved because this is being done in other countries.]

Related: Life inside the Philippines' most overcrowded jail

Drugs in jails

Besides trying to solve congestion, the new BJMP chief is preventing the entry of drugs in jails.

Barretto said all inmates should go through drug testing.

"Kasi kung mayroong gumagamit dyan talagang ano yan may indication na nasusuhulan pa ang aming mga personnel na magpasok ng droga sa loob," Baretto said.

[Translation: If there are people who use drugs inside, there's an indication that some of our personnel are being bribed to allow entry of drugs.]

Should a prisoner test positive, Barretto said the warden is automatically relieved in line with the bureau's one-strike rule.

Also read: Matrix showing personalities in the drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison