PH jail congestion rate soars to over 500% amid drug war

MANILA, Philippines – The country's cramped jails had to accommodate more inmates in 2016 amid the government's crackdown on drugs as well as other issues, resulting in an overall 511.9% congestion rate, according to the Commission on Audit (COA).

"The jail populations for the year increased in various months attributed to the increase in the number of drug-related cases in the country as well as the court's slow or no action on the pending cases due to lack of judges, postponement of hearings, and the slow disposition of criminal cases," COA said.

Government jails have a holding capacity of 20,746. But as of 2016, facilities are holding 126,946 inmates which is an increase of 30,544 from 2015, according to the annual audit report for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) released by COA on Thursday, June 15.

The 511.9% congestion rate as of December 31, 2016 is a significant increase from the 364.7% rate in 2015. (READ: Overcrowding in PH prisons: Is tech the solution?)

Recommendations

The government, said COA, should build more jails and expand existing ones.

But looking at the bigger picture, COA also urged the BJMP to utilize the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) program for the release of certain inmates. The GCTA reduces prison time for compliant inmates, with several bills and proposals trying to expand what could be considered as "good conduct."

The role of the judiciary was also highlighted in the COA report. State auditors pointed out that there are minor offenders being locked up simply because they cannot pay bail.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno earlier said the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) is working with the BJMP to expedite inmates' motions for release.

The Supreme Court (SC) also assigned 240 additional courts to handle drug-related cases to address the problem. (READ: China pledges funds to decongest Philippine jail – gov't)

Problematic jails

According to the COA report, jails in Central Luzon are the worst, having 12,490 inmates but with a total holding capacity of only 1,178. That's a 961% congestion rate for the jails in the region.

In contrast, jails in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) only have a 1% congestion rate, with 278 inmates and a holding capacity of 275.

COA noted that there is a strategic problem in constructing jails, with some built in small spaces. (READ: Quick fix for PH jails? Pardon sick, old prisoners – Recto)

Two municipal jail buildings, one in Ilocos and one in Pangasinan, were also criticized for still being unfinished despite being funded as early as 1996. A municipal jail in Alegria, Surigao del Norte, which began construction 16 years ago, remains unfinished as well.

Also failing to meet target completion dates are 4 jails in Western Visayas and jail buildings in the Zamboanga Pensinsula, worth P12.4 million and P13.7 milliion respectively. – Rappler.com