SNORKELING FOR PRISON REFORMS
While appreciating the white-sanded cove of Pearl Farm resort in Davao along with the new Prison leadership, General Franklin Bucayu, we were informed by the agency staff that the President has signed into law the Bill “Strengthening the Bureau of Corrections”. We have received the information in between snorkeling and brain storming. It is a break worth indulging. As it is, the legislative intervention amended Prison Law of 1917 and improved the provision in the 1987 Administrative Code. We found ourselves at the vortex of a perfect occasion to contemplate on the changes to be conducted.
The significance of said law advanced the view that prison management and the treatment of prisoners should be responsive to the requirements of the times. For years, prison authorities are tied with obsolete principles in governing the correctional institution that it could not flex any policy consideration in addressing institutional problems. Congestion is the order of the day. Professionalism among the ranks of those on the ground are found wanting. A new crop of inmates, the so called celebrity and influential ones, have found gang life a favorable atmosphere in the pursuit of their previous illicit activities. Even if prison authorities wanted to control and be relevant in realizing the mandate of corrections, they are limited with stop gap measures and ad hoc rules as reactionary response. As a consequence, prison administration would find themselves at the bottom of every controversy.
The law was a response to a series of controversial incidents that marred the correctional system beginning with the treatment of prisoners, especially those who were referred to as the celebrity or the so called VIP prisoners. For quite a time, media had a field day amplifying what ailed the system. Former prison leaderships were pushed against the wall explaining on how certain celebrity prisoners were able to gain privileges and even an upper hand in the reduction of their sentences. With the passage of the Corrections Act issues pertaining corrective problems were addressed and provided with the necessary responsive resolutions.
There is however one specific concern which must also be taken into consideration. The term “Corrections.” It replaced “Prisons.” Hence, in the 1987 Administrative Code, the Bureau of Prisons was replaced with Bureau of Corrections. At first glance, the term invited rehab as the main approach and restorative justice, the corollary methodology. But that is not what is obtaining. Corrections has two major facets—institutional and non-institutional. When we say institutional corrections, we mean prisons, jails, lock-ups, detention camps, custodial centers. Non-institutional corrections on the other hand speaks of probation and parole. When something happens in jails or on those under parole, the Director of Corrections is immediately collared and obliged to explain. Technically however, the Director of Corrections is only in charge of prisons or penitentiaries. There lies the confusion and the controversy. While corrections in the Philippines remains fragmented, in the eyes of the public it is integrated.
This should be spelled out when the new law on Corrections will have its IRR (Implementing Rules and Regulations). Once the Corrections Act will operate and will be applicable, the decades of neglect will finally be over. It will dawn on criminal justice administration a new beginning as far as handling prisoners are concerned including the eventual professionalization on the ranks of corrective officers. It is hoped that standards in corrections will be fashioned by the agency and extended towards all corrective agencies in government.