Conclusion: Open letter to Director General Ronald dela Rosa

These informal coping mechanisms have both positive and negative impacts on prison management. While they help the BuCor in the day-to-day administration, like cell administration, conflict management and implementation of prison programming, they also induce the creation of a predatory and corrupt prison culture.

For example, inmate Bosyos can maximize their position to extract money from inmates and utilize this money to bribe prison officials. Coupled with the structural problems noted above, like low salaries, these coping mechanisms facilitate corruption, drug dealing, and violence.

For example, corrupt prison guards can be in cahoots with a Bosyo to let a drug dealing inmate have access to cellphones and thus continue their illegal trade. This setup is further compounded by the evolution of the inmate pangkat (brotherhood), which was initially designed as the inmates’ collective voice against the abuses of the prison management into organized gangs that facilitate the drug trade.

Past inmate leaders have utilized their positions in the inmate hierarchy and the protection of their pangkats to control drug trade in their respective territories (carcel and presidio) in the Maximum. Though it must be recognized that only a few of the pangkat members actively engage in the drug trade.

These problems, we believe, will be the greatest challenges of the BuCor in effecting holistic and sustained reforms. While providing SAF support to the BuCor will indeed augment security by lessening inmate movement, privileges, cash flow, access to cellphones, etc, these are short-term benefits with limited effect in the correctional management.

In the first place, the SAF continues to be a separate and independent entity from the BuCor Custodial force. The SAF does not transfer its social technology, expertise, and techniques to the BuCor Custodial Force. In fact, the presence of the SAF creates organizational and operational conflicts between the two entities. The SAF’s restrictive and haphazard visitation policies, for example, undermine the established protocols of the BuCor Custodial Force.

There should be a way to integrate these two forces, through development of congruent policies, mutual training, and constant dialogue. Moreover, there should be a way to strengthen the BuCor Custodial Force through training and recruitment. The BuCor Personnel Training School, which recruits and trains its custodial officers, must be strengthened. These initiatives should pave the way for the development of an effective BuCor Custodial Force that will be necessary when the SAF augmentation services are eventually withdrawn.

Though helpful in the short-term, the SAF presence does not address the real long-term problems. In fact, the SAF simply sidesteps these conditions. The SAF is still dependent on the inmate informal coping structures and resources.

The SAF and the BuCor Custodial Force still rely on the inmate nanunungkulan system in managing the day-to-day operations of the prisons. Inmate kultureros still conduct the headcounts, inmate marshalls still provide security in the prison vicinity, inmate Bosyos still mediate conflicts, and inmate VIPs still provide medicine for sick inmates.

While there is nothing inherently wrong in this informal setup, it could always be abused by daring and corrupt inmates, prison guards, and SAF personnel. It has happened before, it will happen again. For example, our studies suggest that several previous SAF personnel had discreetly participated in the equally lucrative cigarette trade. While regularly changing SAF officers will address familiarization with the inmates, this will still be a palliative solution to an endemic problem.

Thus, a holistic solution is necessary. There is a need to address the problems of overcrowding, the lack of qualified personnel, and the inadequacy of resources.

Given your popularity to the adoring public and closeness to the President, you will be in the best position to advocate for these. When these structural limitations are addressed, the next step is to introduce a human-rights based approach to effective prison management.

These entail the proper classification of inmates, their housing assignment based on criminogenic risks, their participation in programming based on needs, and the documentation and assessment of inmate behaviors. These entail the adoption of a new penology that adheres to the concept of dynamic security.

For example, high-risk drug dealing and using inmates need to be identified and segregated and be provided with adequate supervision and monitoring. They also need to undergo drug treatment programs to overcome their financial dependence on the drug trade. With a correct classification system, you will realize that not more than a hundred inmates, of the more than 25,000 inmates in the NBP, are actively involved in the drug trade.

The SAF, with their extensive training in police work, can be limited to supervising the truly high-risk inmates, thus freeing the SAF from prison custodial work and letting them do the work that they are trained to do, such as law enforcement and combatting terrorists.

It will also spare the law-abiding inmates, many of whom simply want to serve their time with honor and dignity, from the repressive policies of the SAF. This will be more cost effective and beneficial to the moral regeneration of the inmates in the long run. Our current analyses suggest that sustained repressive SAF policies aggravate the pains of imprisonment, destroy inmate traditional coping mechanisms, and cut off inmates from their familial support, which are all conducive to the radicalization and cynicism of erstwhile law-abiding inmates. Eighteen months into SAF policies of lockdown and repression, we are afraid that this will eventually backfire.

An integrated program of action can be designed for each inmate based on empirically validated inmate programs. These interventions require the recruitment, training, and education of new cadres of BuCor officials to have a fresh start for the organization. These entail the pouring of resources in the front end.

Partnership with other governmental agencies in the criminal and penal system, like the BJMP, Parole and Probation Office, the provincial jails, the Philippine National Police, the Commission on Human Rights, and other organizations, using a “whole of government” approach, would also be necessary to achieve the principles of effective prison management.

In closing, we wish you well in your impending stint as head as the BuCor. We write this long letter with a heartfelt desire to see you succeed. One of us, Dr Raymund Narag, was once a former inmate, imprisoned for 7 years for a crime he did not commit. He was eventually acquitted by the courts. He is now a professor in Criminology and Criminal Justice, and he just wishes to share with you the product of 20 years of studying and advocating for prison reforms.

He has conducted numerous trainings for the BuCor, the BJMP, the courts, and the CHR, to popularize best practices in Philippine penal and criminal justice system. The other author, Dr Clarke Jones, had been conducting prison studies and training programs for the BJMP and BuCor for the past 10 years. He has interviewed hundreds of inmates and pangkat leaders and correctional officers under 3 Philippine presidents. He has longitudinal understanding of the development and challenges of the BuCor and the correctional system through the years. 

We do believe that with an informed and dedicated leadership, such as yours, the men and women of the BuCor, who had been toiling hard to improve the quality of prison service, will find a champion in you.

Thank you for reading our long letter.

 In service of the Filipino people.

Rappler.com

Raymund E. Narag, PhD, teaches at the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice of Southern Illinois University Carbondale while Clarke Jones, PhD, is from the Research School of Psychology, Australia National University.