By Minerva Newman
CEBU CITY – It is a staggering statistic: 21,000 prisoners are locked up in jails in Central Visayas designed to hold only 3,000.
That’s a 593-percent congestion rate, according to Vilma Catalan, chief of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology’s (BJMP) welfare development division in the region.
The overcrowding presents “a huge problem specifically in the management of food/meals, sleeping quarters, health and visiting privileges of couples and families,” Catalan said during a news forum that focused on National Correctional Awareness Week.
Central Visayas has 40 jails, and Cebu has the biggest congestion problem: 17,830 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) crammed in facilities meant for in 2,114 PDLs.
Bohol has 1,272 PDLs in jails with a 524-PDL holding capacity Negros Oriental has 1,954 PDLs in 379 holding capacity jails and Siquijor with 49 prisoners in a 28 holding capacity jail.
“There are many instances in some Cebu jails that sleeping is on rotation basis, they learn how to sleep while standing or sitting because of congestion, they couldn’t be accommodated in lying position,” Catalan said.
Based on BJMP records, 75 percent of the detainees in the region are in jail on drug-related cases. The rest are detained for theft and robbery, murder, rape,/acts of lasciviousness.
Catalan said that they find ways to make the PDLs’ stay in jail as comfortable and humane as possible.
The regional BJMP has strengthened its para-legal services and partnership with the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) for the availability of lawyers and to follow-up cases to speed up plea bargaining.
As of last October there were 1,986 plea bargaining cases that have been attended to, Catalan said.
The regional BJMP has also allocated more than P441.760 million to build 17 more jail facilities. Since 2017, 13 jails have been built, and four are still under construction and expected to be completed in 2020.
PDLs are encouraged to enroll in skills and livelihood workshops to ease boredom inside the jails and to help them earn an income while in confinement.
Catalan said the bureau and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) have partnered in training programs on carpentry, baking bread and pastries, small engine repair, wellness programs and other livelihood and skills training.
“Since 2018 to the present, we have graduated 8,287 PDLs some of whom are doing business inside the jail such as a bakery and or sari-sari stores for their cooperatives inside the jails,” she said.
Since 2018, PDLs have taken part in eight trade fairs in Cebu, displaying, exhibiting and selling crafted products such as bags, custom jewelry, gifts, toys, home and Christmas decors.
The fairs earned more than P925,683.00 revenues for the detainees, and the income is plowed back to PDL cooperatives, Catalan said.
Continuing education is another program that has been institutionalized inside jails in partnership with Alternative Learning Systems (ALS) of the Department of Educaton. Catalan reported that for 2019 alone there were 2,661 ALS enrollees and 1,339 passers on equivalency test and graduated last March 2019.