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Free legal aid helps decongest jails – BJMP

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By Chito Chavez

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) has recognized the free legal aid provided by cause-oriented groups will help resolve the high congestions rate which stands at 441.74 percent at its jail facilities as of March 2019.

BJMP spokesman Xavier Solda acknowledged following signing of an agreement between the BJMP and Junior Chamber International (JCI) Philippines that will further strengthen the “Beyond Prison Walls’’ project.

(JCI Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

(JCI Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Aside from free legal consultations, JCI Philippines also provides persons deprived of liberty (PDL) with human rights advocacy lectures, sports, cultural and educational programs, and livelihood opportunities.

BJMP Director Chief Superintendent Deogracias Tapayan thanked the JCI for its assistance hoping the continuity of the project will steadily reduce the PDL’s woes until they are fully reformed and ready to return to mainstream society.

JCI Paranaque chapter president Joane Marie Fabella said their free legal aid is beneficial to the PDL undergoing trial as the group has partnered with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) in ensuring the swift resolution of cases of indigent PDLs.

She cited the help the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) is giving to the poor PDLs but the sheer workload and number of cases are too much for PAO to handle.

Solda noted that some PDLs with unresolved cases have languished in the BJMP-run jails for as long as five years and these have added tremendously to the congestion of jail facilities.

Fabella explained the volunteer lawyers who go directly to PDLs in dire need of free legal assistance provides consultations while looking at possibilities of new amendments that may allow them to gain their release from incarceration.

Solda noted the BJMP has 476 jail facilities under its care with an estimated population of 136,881 PDL.

The BJMP jails with the highest congestion rate are the Navotas Municipal Jail (3,996 percent); Malolos Jail (3,190 percent) and the San Jose Del Monte Jail (2,946 percent).

In terms of population, Solda said the Cebu City Jail Male Dormitory has the most number of PDLs with 5,761; followed by the Manila City Jail (5,731) and the Quezon City Jail (5,296).

He added that 9,620 cases of the PDLs in the BJMP’s jail facilities are drug-related or roughly 70.65 percent of the country’s jail population.

The BJMP spokesman said the swift delivery of justice and resolution of the cases involving PDLs are welcome developments initiated by the JCI.

Solda reported that as of March 12, the BJMP has 136,881 PDL jam-packed in 476 jail facilities that can only accommodate almost 30,000 PDLs.

Despite the whopping figures, Solda said the congestion rates in the BJMP jails during the first quarter of 2019 and in 2018 are still much lower than in previous years.

He noted the congestion in the BJMP jail facilities nationwide was at 511 percent in 2016; 612 percent in 2017, and; 439.47 percent in 2018.

Solda attributed the rise in congestion rate in jails from 2016 to 2018 to the intensified anti-crime operations of law-enforcement agencies specifically against illegal drugs.

He said the steady decrease in the jails’ congestion rate was primarily traced to the BJMP’s intervention links citing the Supreme Court, the additional drug courts, fast-tracking of cases and the jails where they will be brought.

Solda noted that additional funds provided by the government for the purchase of additional facilities of the BJMP is also a key factor that will help decongest BJMP jail facilities.

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