Misconceptions about justice and imprisonment

Several days ago I saw this picture of an overcrowded jail that became viral in social media (saw this in a newspaper as well). One netizen said it is again a bad publicity for the Philippines. I say it’s not bad publicity, IT’S THE TRUTH. The picture of inmates sleeping on top of one another in a congested cell totally captured how rotten our criminal justice system is.

Seeing this reminded me of this forum that our office organized almost three years ago, “Human Rights and Restorative Justice,” which became my most favorite topic of all the topics that I’ve listened to, of all the topics or fora I’ve documented.

We invited Mr. Manuel Co, administrator of Parole and Probation Administration; Atty. Roy P. Valenzuela, legal service chief of Bureau of Jail Management and Penology; Dr. Rey Taniajura, chairman of National Prison Ministry; and Mr. Bernardo Itucal Jr., a former detainee, as resource persons. They all gladly accepted our invitation (almost free of charge). Mr. Manuel Co, I remember, was early for his speaking engagement with us and I was just glad I came to the venue early before he arrived.

And from my 54-page report of proceedings of the said forum, I will summarize them here as “Misconceptions about Justice and Imprisonment” and they are as follows:

Myth #1: When a person has offended the community or another person, justice is served when that person is punished by sending him to jail.

The Truth: Justice doesn’t just end by sending somebody to prison. Justice should end in peace. It should end in the restoration of people to the best conditions that they were before the conflict happened. Relationship has to be restored. And we need to be aware that not all accused who goes to prison are guilty of the crime.

Myth #2: Imprisonment can transform a criminal into a morally upright person.

The Truth: More often than not, because of the harsh and oppressive environment inside the jail, not to mention the slowness in our criminal justice system, criminals turned into something worse. Unless there is real rehabilitation and reform, positive change will never take place.

Myth #3: Imprisonment is the remedy to all crimes.

The Truth: We have to bear in mind that there are innocent people who were sent to jail and have become victims of the ugly system waiting for their trial for quite a long number of years. And we have to remember that not all crimes should be subjected to jail time. It should be selective. This is where restorative justice comes in.

According to Mr. Itucal, a former detainee (accused as a rebel and wrongly charged of a double murder and was given a double life sentence), this is what happens inside a prison:

a. Rehabilitation doesn’t exist. Overpopulation of inmates, torture and violence, illness, and deaths are its normal occurrences. Innocent inmates are oftentimes being forced to admit to the crime.

b. Inmates join gangs as a coping mechanism to the harshness and cruelty that surrounds them. Officials of a gang is composed of the commander (the highest position), the mayor, the sparrow, the tirador etc.

c. No one set of rules inside jails. If during daytime it is the jail personnel that controls and oversees the inmates, when the clock strikes 6pm where every gate is padlocked or closed for security, it is now the rules of the gangs that take over. This is where horrifying occurrences take place.

d. Rape and maltreatment of fellow inmates occur inside jails. Some inmates that are incarcerated for 30 years, for example, and have received no visitors become predators of new inmates, particularly the good-looking ones. And these new inmates are oftentimes treated as women.

e. Once imprisoned, the stigma or the label that you are a criminal (whether you commit it or not) will be automatically imprinted upon you. Guilty as charged.


Photo courtesy of The Telegraph News UK


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