PRISONERS AS PRISONERS
“Only free men can negotiate. A prisoner cannot enter into contracts.”
Anyone convicted for committing an offense expect that once they are brought to the penitentiary, they will have to serve time in a regime of discipline, restraint and under full control of authority. Every activity is defined according to the prevailing rules and every regulation enforced to its finest detail. Obedience is highly required. Order defines the prison climate. That is the ideal setting in the management of a corrective facility. Failing to impose these conditions necessitate the breakdown of institutional direction.
In reality however, our prison system occupies the lower rung in the totem pole of government priorities. Its personnel are oftentimes passed on as ineffective and are seen as bungling workers, unable to tame inmates, easily tempted, abusive and hopeless. Worst, corrections is never accepted as a field of discipline. This can be gleaned on how government assigns an administrator to take charge of the prison agency. Administrators come from the rank of the retirees in the police and military service.
When a retired police general assumes command, the prison personnel become pseudo policemen. When a retired military officer takes command, the prison workers become inured to drills and soldiery projections. Not that these personalities are ineffective. As a matter of fact, they are competent administrators except that prison work is never in their professional radar and orientation manual. For the law enforcer, prisoners are the bad guys to be dealt with. For the soldier, these are villains that ruin the strategic values of winning a war. Prisoners are never seen as prisoners.
Prisoners are denizens of a sector segregated from the free community. They have to serve time for a period defined by judicial authorities. Their political and civil rights are suspended. They are under civil interdiction. That is to say, they cannot enter into any agreement or get into a contract with anyone. Doing so would render void or invalid any instrument they will enter into. They live under a highly communal regimen, where every act is measured in cadence and every movement is calculated in paces.
In advanced countries, when a prisoner moves out from his dormitory, he is grouped in a batch and they march towards a specific area. It is only in reaching a spot where they can express themselves individually. Movement from one station to another should be conducted in a collective manner. I have seen this manner in penal facilities of Japan and Australia.
In the Philippine setting, there is no drill required in the mobility of prisoners. Once the headcount is completed, it’s like an ideological struggle already—to each according to his needs. Rules depend on who defines it at the top. If the administrator is a bleeding heart, there is liberalism among inmate concerns. This has been the traditional outlook in the handling of prisoners for several decades already. If the one running the show is a disciplinarian, then outright and unmitigated restrictions are enforced in almost all corners of the facility inviting resentment and antipathy. If the prison community rejects such penal outlook then concessions are granted and communal direction is compromised. It is in the formulation of rules, that which should be properly observed and fairly implemented, that sustains stability in the corrective system.
On the whole it must be emphasized that prison administrators should never lose their sight on the principle of control. Prisoners expect to be dominated (and not exploited). Prisoners should be treated as they are. Less than that or exceeding such means losing grasp on the mandate of corrections.