Prison is no place for female offenders
WHY FEMALE OFFENDERS SHOULD NOT BE IMPRISONED
PROLONGED INCARCERATION has often been the knee jerk response of lawmakers whenever they craft a law pertaining the prescription of penalty on an act considered criminal or offensive. And this is a result of a deliberation on a recent spate of incidents where people’s rights are jeopardized. We have special laws addressing illegal recruitment, kidnapping, car napping, drug related offenses, etc. And when we have special laws, it means that the penalty is greater than ordinary penal laws on the subject. When there is a special concern, then it is construed that the penalty is higher or simply put, imprisonment is longer as is necessary to drive the message across.
The point this paper wishes to seek legislative audience is on the matter of resorting to penalty not necessarily imprisonment. There are numerous ways to penalize or to impose penalty aside from incarceration. There is the tested community-service approach. The remuneration scheme where penalty ranges from garnishment of properties or working for a period to recompense what has been damaged or injured. There is the compulsory conscription into a project. The mandatory designation to a civic duty for period equivalent to the serving time under the regime of detention. There are more.
Imprisonment is costly. To date, a prisoner is maintained at Php 50 per capita. This does not include the cost of custodial management, medical and dental services and a host of other considerations. If we are to quantify the cost of maintaining prisoners on a daily basis, it is not an overstatement to say that government spends Php 75 per head. If we will quantify further on the matter of expending this daily cost to some one thousand prisoners, we will arrive at a cost of Php 75k a day. Or, if the average incarceration period for a specific number say, for one thousand prisoners on a period of one year or 365 days, the cost is staggering at Php 27, 375,000! Or Php 28 Million. And we are only estimating 5% of the approximately 50,000 prisoners and detainees in the country.
Worst, there is even the danger of extended stay in the prison facility and this means additional cost while awaiting for any clemency privilege. If there are work programs that require prisoners to work for a specific concern earning for government a certain degree of revenue, then incarceration may be justified as a worthy activity aside from segregating the offender from his or her community of orientation. But prison security dictates that the principal aim of imprisonment is more on holding rather than on producing. This in effect limits the constructive efforts of prison administration in the process of promoting rehabilitation of its wards.
Let us start analyzing a particular sector in the prison community where we can apply the concept of using other penalty aside from imprisonment. The female offenders. The female offender as soon as she receives the verdict of incarceration is immediately segregated from her family where, in the first place, she belonged. Let us assume that she has been meted the penalty to serve time under prison for a period of 8 years—although the average period of imprisonment by female offenders is higher than their male counterparts, probably 15 years because most female offenders commit violation of special laws like illegal recruitment and drug related cases. Under the regime of imprisonment, the female offender spends her time under a controlled environment and shorn of productive pursuit. Her household is in disarray as a consequence of her absence and her family directly suffers from her loss. It adds up to her stress as if incarceration has little pains to wreck her nerves and sends her to feats of depression and thoughts of harboring more violence. She deteriorates easily and not even the most advanced principles in rehabilitation can save her sanity. Yet what our laws aim in prescribing the penalty is to telegraph to society the message that government means business in punishing those who erred. If this is the case, then any penalty aside from imprisonment may be explored.
Let us assume that female offenders, specifically the mothers, those with young children, first offenders and whose sentence is below 15 years (we have the Probation that addresses this concern for those sentenced to serve time for 6 years and below), would be sentenced, say 8 years imprisonment, and instead would be sent to a municipal or local government unit from where she came from or where she resides, that for a period of 8 years, equivalent to the period computed under institutional care, she would be given manual or menial duties as (for instance) street sweeper, or as attendant or as helper in a free kitchen in a depressed community, whatever. She therefore earns her freedom through this work. She can go back to her family after the task on a daily basis. She is not maintained institutionally at Php 50 cost. And she gets penalized in the process. If she eludes this arrangement, it means she eludes being with her family and therefore must be institutionalized or imprisoned. If she adheres to the daily regime for a period prescribed in her penalty, her family never suffered her loss and at best, government saved the fund intended for her incarceration. We multiply this case to a thousand cases, and government saves almost Php 28 Million. An amount which the education sector can utilize to enhance its policy on quality pedagogical concerns.