Before, I thought those who are in jail or prison cells deserve to rot and suffer for the crimes they have committed. After watching movies like the Green Mile and the Shawshank Redemption, I learned that these people in jail are not all evil. There was also this book I read, People of the Lie, by M. Scott Peck (do not read this when you’re stressed), I learned that there is still goodness within a so-called criminal when he– despite the consequence that he is going to face--admit to his crime. Then it really became an eye-opener when I was the one who documented a forum we organized called Human Rights and Restorative Justice four years ago. What I heard from the resource speakers shocked me, up to this day I still could not forget it. I’d like to believe that we’re not any different from those people in jail. We think evil things like them. Except that we choose not to do it. That is why we really need to help those people. I remember my younger brother telling this to me when we were discussing about interpersonal relationships: “Walang tao na sa harap at talikuran ay mabait. Ang kriminal sa kasuluk-sulukan ng buto nyan mabait yan.”
This post by Dr. Raymund Narag, a former detainee, is painful to read but in the end offers hope on how our country can resolve the overcrowding of inmates, the drug trade, the exploitation and corruption happening inside jails.
Explaining drug trade in Bilibid and offering solutions..one more time
By Dr. Raymund Narag
Most Filipinos are puzzled by the reported resurgence of the drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison (NBP). Department of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre estimated that 10 to 15 percent of drug trade activity had resurfaced. He also suggested that the inmate drug dealers might have corrupted the Special Action Force personnel which had been in-charged of securing the Maximum Security Compound. Then Director General Benjamin Delos Santos clarified that drug-dealing activities had moved to the Medium Security Compound of the NBP and that the Maximum Security Compound is relatively drug-free. This implies that the SAF is performing well as the SAF is in charged with supervising the Maximum Security Compound and it is the traditional Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) personnel that supervise the Medium Security Compound.
Surprisingly, BuCor Director General Benjamin Delos Santos resigned from his post, purportedly to give Secretary Aguirre a free-hand to investigate the issue. This will now be the third appointment in the BuCor, for the first full year of the Duterte administration. This continues a trend in the BuCor leadership where two to three new directors are appointed each year. This dates back to the past 10 years, or since the time of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The BuCor, especially the New Bilibid Prison, is a powder keg that can erupt anytime, with direct implications to the national political landscape. Senator Leila De Lima is currently in jail, supposedly for her failure to suppress drug activities in the NBP during her term as the Justice Secretary. Her supporters now claim she is vindicated considering that drugs continue to proliferate inside the prison; it is an indication that the prison drug problem is intractable, and making her accountable hides the reality of her political persecution.
As I have said in previous articles: there were drugs in the Bilibid before De Lima became Secretary of the Department of Justice, there were drugs during her time, and there will be drugs thereafter. And as long as there is a continued neglect of the structural, organizational, and cultural conditions of the penal facilities in the country (detention centers, jails and prisons), the drug problem will continue to linger.
For starters, the structural condition refers to the overcrowding of jail and prison facilities. On the national average, overcrowding is now pegged at 500%, with some jails and prisons hovering over 2,000%. That basically means 20 inmates occupy a space good for one inmate. The drug war exacerbated this situation: in June 2016, the jail and prison population stood at 150,000; in June 2017, this now stands to close to 200,000 inmates (this number does not include inmates in the provincial jails, which is much more difficult to collect). Despite this increase in inmate population, the number of personnel stood the same, and there had been no construction of jail and prison facilities. Additionally, the operational budget of the BJMP and the BuCor had stood practically the same as the past years.
This structural deficit has led to coping mechanisms that have been tacitly utilized by the jail and prison personnel. Due to lack of personnel, inmate leaders, known as the mayores, are allowed to perform custodial, administrative, and rehabilitation functions. Due to lack of space, inmates are allowed to construct their own cubicles and living spaces. Due to lack of resources, inmates and their visitors are allowed to bring their own food, toiletries, medicines – developing a vibrant commerce inside the facilities. These coping mechanisms had been an integral part of jail and prison management, without them, jail and prison facilities will collapse. Thus, the coping mechanisms have short-term benefits—it keeps jail and prison management afloat.
However, these coping mechanisms are deemed informal and illegal. Thus, it is openly denied. However, due to necessity, jail and prison personnel tacitly employ these informal structures. Jail and prison personnel are formally admonished not to use it, but are informally advised to utilize it.
This lack of guidance on the use of these informal structures lead to abuse. Jail and prison officers can use their discretion when and whom to use the informal structures. This discretionary power can also lead to corruption and power-play inside the facilities. This becomes cultural and inmates and personnel must be acculturated to the emergent informal structures inside the facilities.
The interplay of the structural, organizational, and cultural dynamics of a jail and prison facility can lead to different outcomes, one of which is the proliferation of drugs. For example, due to overcrowding, lack of personnel, and lack of resources, inmates are organized by cells, where an inmate cell mayores regulates inmate movement and discipline. Inmates with resources are tasked to share their resources to other inmates, and will be rewarded with privileges, like ownership of a “kubol.” The presence of inmate leadership structure also creates a hierarchy among the inmates’ ranks, which provides the basis for inmate leaders to develop a political base where they can negotiate and demand with the jail and prison staff. Coupled with the boredom inherent in any place of deprivation of liberty, corrupted inmates may capitalize on the inmate leadership structure to lure corruptible jail and prison personnel. For example, corrupted inmates, through a daring inmate leader, may lure a jail or prison guard to bring in packs of cigarettes, which is considered a premium commodity inside the facilities. Once compromised, these personnel may be asked to bring in drugs, cell phones, and other contrabands. The spiral of corruption may then lead to higher-level offices—the gaters, custodial officers, and escort officers may partake of the lucrative drug trade. The inmate leaders and compromised jail and prison personnel, would even try to keep the “peace” within the facility—they control inmate disturbances, riots and other events that may call the attention of the outside world– to keep their lucrative trade running.
While the description outlined above is simplistic, more sophisticated dynamics can develop in jails and prisons with bigger inmate populations. The Maximum Security Compound of the NBP, with its 16,000-inmate population is currently the biggest Mega-prison in the world. In the NBP, inmate gang structure provides another layer of inmate cohesiveness, making the drug trade problem almost intractable. In the NBP, gangs control 95 percent of the inmates, with three gangs having at least 2,000 inmate members.
Prison gang leaders are the gatekeepers in the drug trade. While majority of the gang leaders abhor drug use and trade within their territories, a number of corrupted inmate gang leaders have utilized their gang muscle to facilitate the drug trade. These inmate gang leaders support drug dealing activities of inmate drug traders by providing access to cell phones, providing security against custodial searches, and harassing non-paying trade partners. Coupled by the support of corrupted prison guards and gang leaders, inmate drug dealers can operate freely inside the facilities and they come to dominate drug distribution inside and outside world.
Through the years, the government has tried to disrupt drug dealing and distribution in the NBP. However, most of these interventions fail to acknowledge the intricacies of the structural, organizational, and cultural realities described above. One approach is to utilize inmate leaders to squeal the beans on the inmate drug dealers and targeting them for transfer and isolation. This approach led to the identification and transfer of 19 drug dealers to the NBI detention cell in December, 2014. This approach failed as the purported inmate leader who served as government “asset” solidified his power and concentrated drug network in his hands.
The second approach is removing the entire custodial force of the Maximum Security Compound and replacing it with the Special Action Force of the Philippine National Police. Three hundred police and battle-trained SAF personnel are thus manning the gates of the Bilibid. Most anecdotal accounts suggest that this had significantly reduced the drug use and trade in the Maximum Security Compound. However, reports suggest that this resulted to the transfer of the drug activity in the Medium Security Compound. Additionally, anecdotal accounts also suggest that some personnel of the SAF may have been lured to participate in small-scale corruption, like the entry of the pack of cigarettes. This eventually led to drug trade involvement.
Both of these interventions will fail. They do not account for the lack of personnel, the problem of overcrowding, and lack of operational resources. Both of these interventions depend on the use of the mayores and other informal coping mechanisms to keep the NBP afloat— practices that eventually create the cultural environment where drug trade can flourish, as outlined above.
The problem needs a long-term, sustainable solution. Here are some suggestions that I had been offering for the longest time:
a. Create small regional prisons. The Maximum Security Compound (16,000 inmates) and the Medium Security Compound (8,000 inmates) are two of the biggest Mega Prisons in the world. Even the best prison director will have difficulty managing such a big population prison. Regional prisons with population less than 2,000 inmates must be created for each region in the Philippines. The inmate gangs, which are based on regionalism, may be dismantled once this is in place. Regional prisons will also be more accessible to inmate visitors, thus facilitating their reintegration to their communities.
b. Integrated correctional system. The BJMP jails (city, district and municipal jails), the provincial jails (managed by provincial governments), and the BuCor must be integrated into the Department of Corrections. Currently, the BJMP has the most developed personnel among the different agencies. Instead of the SAF taking over the Maximum Security Compound, the BJMP must take over the entire BuCor facilities. The BJMP should also take over all provincial jail facilities. BuCor personnel and provincial jail personnel must undergo training in the National Jail Management Training and Penology Institute, with its ladderized course offerings. This entails infusion of resources to the BJMP and the NJMPTI in order to meet the number of fully trained personnel.
c. Human Rights Based Approach to effective correctional management. Most jail and prison facilities operate through the old penology—which are dependent on the use of gangs, mayores, kubols and inmate VIP systems. Majority of the jail and prison staff are not familiar with the principles of correctional management like inmate classification, housing assignments, inmate programming, and documentation and assessment of inmate behaviors. The criminogenic needs of the inmates are not properly identified nor addressed. This results to high levels of recidivism. A Human Rights Based Approach to effective correctional management that incorporates the principles of Risk Needs and Responsivity (RNR) and observes the basic tenets of human rights, gender and cultural sensitivity needs to be introduced. If the jail and prison facilities adopt this overall framework, the corrupt and punitive culture prevalent in our penal system may be overturned. Drug trade inside the jails and prisons may be fully eradicated.