When we talk of prison reforms, we are not only contemplating on programs that would simply ensure the upkeep of prisoners but also the need to impress the underlying disciplinary character of incarceration on top of security considerations. That there is a compelling reason to build, organize and maintain facilities strictly to adhere to the principles of criminal justice administration in general and corrections in particular. If we are there to consider this, we have a lot of assignments and considerations to accomplish as far as our correctional establishments are concerned.
First is the accommodation level. If we there is a facility filled to the brim with congestion rate up above the rooftop then there is deprivation of an air of rehabilitation for its wards. In effect, what is bred is a new specie of offenders. If we are to believe reports that most of those who graduate from overcrowded detention houses turn out no longer as ordinary felons with past but hostile predators with potential for committing heinous crimes, then this is it already.
Second is how inmates are treated. If we have a community managed with suspicion, administered through coercive means as foremost consideration in dealing with its denizens then prison officers are not only breeding sadism but propagating another type of offenders: the serial types.
Third is how requirements are attended to in the prison community. Inmates are a helpless lot when it comes to evaluating their conduct and institutional adjustments. More so in technically handling the computation of period vis a vis that which they have already served. If prison evaluators are indifferent, by way of negligence or plain incompetence, then another persona is introduced to a burdened inmate. He becomes not only hostile on authority but his hatred goes up to political leadership and it goes without saying, to government as a whole. This kind of inmate once released is easily absorbed in the mainstream of insurgency.
These three considerations virtually erase the quality of redemption the Constitution guarantees through the criminal justice administration. Retribution, the opposite of redemption, never has left the system notwithstanding policies, laws and enunciations to the contrary. Retribution defeats the very purpose of justice, overthrows the very principle of corrections. Retribution becomes the order of the day. We have congestion, maltreatment and an indifferent organization, and then we have retribution in full color.
Just what is redemption in prison really is? It is saving the humanity or what is left in the offender and restoring humanity back to him. The prisoner, whatever his worth is a respected member of the State, with residual rights protected by law and is believed that a day will come when he may be reintegrated back into the mainstream of free community not only as repentant but with humanity back into his system. It is the role of the State through its corrective service to reintroduce humanity back on an erring member.
Of course, it is an impossibility to redeem someone under a condition which does not encourage nor inspire positive change. At best, efforts at redemption properly applied should lead to reform and not to deform.
“Kubol” is a term which has entered the lexicon of criminal justice administration through tolerated practices in the infrastructure complexion of corrective administration. It is a cubicle, hence the term “kubol” contrived by prisoners assigned in a dormitory type facility. Dorms are facilities designed to accommodate a number of prisoners and it is one stretch of a facility with two rows of bed bunks, usually double decker. If inmates have prolonged period to serve in the facility, the dormitory type, usually a carry-over of the barracks used by military and trainees, no longer could serve a positive purpose. Aside from the fact that in prolonged incarceration, privacy sets in.
There is nothing wrong in communal living as long as the period is calibrated to mean for a specific short period, say, on semestral basis. But if it extends further, then abuses are formed, violation of privacy and most of the time, there is gross awareness to the point of contempt that pervades. There will come a time, and this is usually after a few summers, when viciousness and passion would ran high and the threshold for restraint snaps into a murderous rage. Suddenly, the prison community becomes a witness to blood bath and correctional administrators would find themselves groping in the dark.
When privacy is intruded and infringed as when a person is inured to period of gross familiarity there is immediate hostility created and what will ensue would be a series of character wracking attitude like predilection to suspicion, distrust and misgiving. This further translates into collective cynicism, the exact opposite of that climate which corrections fosters on the community. The prison community would just explode into a riotous series of mayhem and turmoil.
Time came when liberality in prison administration dawned. It was also a time when the population would soar to an unmanageable level. Supervision has become terribly difficult. While the population doubled and tripled, the number of prison personnel never took off to reach an effective ratio. It was at this juncture, when prisoners decided to subdivide their dormitories into cubicle. Thus, the “kubol” was born.
Privacy assured, the kubol became an emblem of solitude, a space for contemplation, a guarded place where an inmate or a handful of inmates can retreat into silence. Kubol emplaced, violence was subdued, normalcy restored and sanity suddenly took over. In a community where the average period of one’s stint is 15 years, privacy is the most significant consideration he gets to enjoy and his kubol the most precious temple he is proud to possess.
But there are complaints aired. Kubols in the public perception is also a template for luxury, an expression of excess and an unjust arrangement which moneyed inmates could partake. It has become virtually an issue that bespeaks of ineptitude in prison management, an irregularity in allowing a few to transcend above the usual treatment accorded everyone. It has been translated into a topic, a central dispute, if you may, which prison administrators must squarely answer.
In reality, the kubol is just an ordinary construction arrangement, a mere contraption, which inmates took it upon themselves since the State has no funds to rebuild prison structure into cell blocks. It is the inmates themselves who out of personal security and welfare, that which the State through its correctional system must sustain, would initiate for their own ends. That they are secured equates to the realization of correctional mandate on safekeeping of prisoners.
As time went by, however, some inmates would spend personal resources to improve, at times would extend to the tune of abuse. These can be remedied however by an administrative act of transferring those who out of mishandling the area assignment would ignore common institutional posturing. On the whole, the kubol is just a simple approach to translate unsympathetic dormitory barracks into livable cells or makeshift studios. It is just plain recognition and understanding of the incarcerated humanity on a personal level.
Fugitive from law Janet Lim Napoles surrendered in style after hiding for days. And why not? She has the money to do that. Never mind if the money came through illegally or in a manner of speaking unfortunately through deception and fraud. The point is, such money whatever its form or origin can procure miracles even in this eclectic world we live in. After all, money ,good or dirty , looks exactly the same, if not the same from the start.
And she gets so much premium from said money notwithstanding where it came from. She has a good lawyer. She gets Presidential attention. The staff of the Chief Executive were all scampering to assist. Before her alleged rackets were uncovered, she was everywhere enjoying life along with the rich and famous, and she cascaded the same interests to her equally flamboyant daughter.
She must also be that generous. She must also be that lavish and liberal to a number of well placed, influential and powerful persons in and out of government. She could have shared or probably gave the lion share of whatever it is that can be divided and treated as loot as in spoils in war. She must be that considerate and ever facilitative, even to the extent of joining personal and private affairs of her clients. She was after all a dispenser, a fixer, a facilitator, an architect for largesse or that catalyst who can transform, magically, largesse into pocket money for her sponsors.
For that she has earned that respect, the adulation, the reverence for which she is now receiving. She can almost at will conduct an exclusive press briefing in the country’s top news paper. Her gestures easily understood by men of substance and people in high places. They are after all recipients of her generosity and they all lapped up and are satiated.
While in detention, she can even push the limits of criminal justice administration by seeking her confinement condition from jail to a country style detention bungalow in Fort Sto Domingo. President Erap was for a brief occasion an inhabitant of said facility and MNLF founder Nur Misuari. All, men of history, well, men of substance, whatever be the crime for which they were made to answer. But this time, a who? a Janet Lim Napoles wanted also to use the facility and which the courts has eventually acceded. Janet Napoles in the estimation of some must also be in the league of historical personalities. This is what money can really bring! Whether money accumulated through thrift or theft, there is no difference. For others, as long as you have the money, you get respect.
How are now to tell our kids, our loved ones to earn and work using fairness when everyone around us wanted to fool us all the time. We have been prodding our friends and barkadas, humiliating them a bit just to rib, if only to pay the tax correctly only to realize that these hard earned dough surrendered to government is wasted through abusive government officials in conspiracy with shaded characters. Worst, there are people in government who would rather corner money through fraud and in the process would look good in the public eye.
Lesson learned. Hard and difficult to make a fortune? Do it the Janet way and be anywhere you wish.
And what about this denial thing by Pasig Rep. Roman Romulo whose wedding with Madam Shalani Soledad featured one of their sponsors a certain Janet Lim Napoles. Romulo was quick to say, “I only knew her socially.” In Philippine socio cultural tradition, a sponsor or “Ninang” is selected strictly, meticulously even, choosing from a long list of people who they could run to for succor if the going gets tough. If we are to believe Romulo that their Ninang Janet’s name was there merely as a social accident, then the gray matter of some guys must be suspect.
Ninong or Ninang in every relationship is sacred. They are deferred and respected. They are never seen as uneventful, to be snubbed, to be snagged, to be ignored. Godparents as the term is known in English is even more pronounced. God is appended on parents! Godparents while expected to be there during crunch time to save their godchildren should merit equal defensive protection also. Godchildren should be, as a matter of respect and cardinal duty, protective of their godparents, shielding them from the glare of malice, from unfair suspicion or plainly, in sympathetic silence. The couple Romulo-Soledad (my apologies, for this emotional bias) did the unthinkable by dismissing their godmother as pure social accident in their relationship. They should be there at the forefront defending their godmother whatever it takes. Oh, well.
Whenever there is dearth of news, whenever there is nothing new to bash, nothing to reveal and nothing to scandalize there is always the prison system to ogle on and scrutinize for some human interest exposes. And it is in prison where the most sensational issues can be derived. But of course. It is composed of denizens convicted of crimes, which previously hugged the headlines. It can be revisited and there will always be an interested audience. Business is in order. It is lemon time for the print, broadcast and television medium.
When a prison administrator handles the facility well and the prison community is quite satisfied to the point of order and discipline, people would still find the tranquility as suspect. When an administrator in another plane is heavy handed and would strictly enforce discipline in a mandatory and totalitarian manner, people would still find the approach as violative of human rights and therefore suspect.
Whichever administration focuses on its concern, there will always be some issues to be hurled, some accusations, some suspicions, some news to be cuddled.
The penal system unfortunately is the least public service concern because it is the repository of society’s scums and dregs. People disregard it in general; it is even ignored on a fair day. Accordingly, it is dangerous, unhealthy and threatening. It is from a point of view, disorganized, chaotic and messy. But when there are no other issues to be exposed, it is in the penal facility, as earlier seen, where the worst can be outlined and brought to the fore.
It is in the prison facility where controversies can be developed and presented either way. A liberal or a conservative administrator can be presented as villain depending on the bias of the reportage. He can be seen as negligent or cruel. Prisoners on the other hand passing through either regime could be perceived as victims, fatalities or innocent dupes if not co-conspirators.
For the national leadership, like the stereotype found in public perception, the entire prison system is tainted with irregularities and anomalies. Accordingly, prison administration is worse than the prison community it aims to reform. Both are to be condemned in the bar of public estimation.
Thus, there is no prestige and integrity in the profession and in everything about prison work and exposure is unworthy of commendation. Everyone is considered stained with criminal proclivities. It is sick and doomed without any hope for redemption. Worst, science has no place in its resolution but rather a political solution is always applied. It has been that way ever since.
There is little, if at all token, public funds to strengthen security. The prison organization is left to formulate its own security survival. Since initiative is almost an offense in the public sector, the officers are left on their own and usually tendered at the mercy of the elements. It is sheer luck more than institutional support that lengthens their career. It is more providence that is prayed for rather than management that carries the day-to-day activity.
Yet penal administration cannot be set aside. It supplies the teeth, the force so to speak, in every legislative agenda. It is almost the essence of criminal justice administration. It is the vindictive element in dealing with violations of law. But in the totem pole of importance, it is almost relegated to the lowest corner. Media know it too well. It is the fountainhead of its reportorial wealth.
Finally, here comes a law that would situate the significance of prison service in the mandate of Justice. RA 10575 (otherwise known as the Corrections Act of 2013) intends to rectify what has been long neglected. It is hoped that with the implementation of said law, correctional administration will achieve the reliability its officer corps wished for.
Why do we operate jails that are already filled to the brim with little budgetary provision and deficiently maintained unable to fulfill the mandate of safekeeping when we do not have enough resources to sustain its upkeep? Why not send the accused—those charged with capital offense—to prisons where its space can humanely accommodate, if only fleetingly but better than the pathetic jails, while awaiting judgment from the courts?
Our prisons are congested, true but it has vast penal reservation from where additional facilities can be constructed. Jails on the other hand have little space, a limited area on which to build additional accommodations even if it wanted to expand further for its growing population. We cannot even compel the judiciary to immediately decide on criminal cases so what happens is that those charged, specially those who cannot post bail or whose cases are unbailable must have to squeeze themselves in makeshift structures we refer to as lockups. And die or live with recurring nightmares of cruelty.
The consequence of pressing people into a small contraption has deleterious effect on their humanity. Worst, their humanity is lost and in turn, they are initiated further to a life of hostility. If at all they survive the filth, the disorder and obscenity, they are mostly like to evolve into persons without compunction, without conscience and without values.
Behind every gruesome crime, every heinous offense, every horrible wrongdoing is a person who underwent a period of jail detention. Check those jam-packed and choking local confinement facilities and those who went through it; and, then verify those who are charged of odious crimes. Most likely one would discover the complimentary nature of its lethal combination. We continue ignoring the conditions of these jails, we directly accept our fate as potential victims of this breed of offenders later.
Before, when we hear that someone was robbed, it was already a sensational deviation. Now, such offense barely gets into the limelight. Crimes today are different from those committed before. We oftentimes hear of someone not only being robbed but slaughtered at the same time after a period of prolonged torture. This is a consequence where an offender is mixed with and unsegregated in swarming holding cells. They unwittingly exchange false values and learn the criminal trade in one sitting in an inhumanly crowded situation. A period under this condition is enough to ignite the evolution of a serial offender immersed in wickedness and waiting for an opportunity to spread hell.
Let us forget ourselves for our inaction but just think of our children. They will be exposed to real danger because of our indecisiveness. Calling on all our leaders in the criminal justice administration. It is your turn to do something for your children’s sake.
Prison education is an advocacy. It is an inherent program that demands patience not only to inmate students but for the teaching profession as well. For how can a student learn effectively in a totalitarian regime like prisons when he is distressed with his environment and apprehensive on his future? Learning comes easily when there is a climate of encouragement and hope. In a detention house there is no such thing. For those pushing chalks on the blackboard, the effort is almost twice as challenging. The teacher does not know whether he contributes to sharing ideas or adding more to a confused mind.
Yet education in correctional institution is a must since the mandate of corrections is rehabilitation. Education essentially serves at its backbone. But is there learning in this setting? If at all there is, is it effective? Prison is , unlike a slaughterhouse where the carcasses of an animals are stamped with “inspected” before it is allowed to be sent to the marketplace. There are no such stamping procedures for prisoners, that there is no mark of “rehabilitated” once he is released. What makes a person rehabilitated or reformed for that matter is how he would carry himself once he becomes a part of the mainstream in the free community. Will he be absorbed in the labor force? Will he be given a chance to express his enterprise? Will he be a law abiding and constructive citizen of his community?
Let us review the tapes. Once a prisoner is released, he is immediately labeled as “ex convict.” Any disorder or violation in the community is an invitation for his presence. He is part of the usual suspects. Hence, he must prove that he was never into criminal activities anymore. Since, he has already a criminal record, his chance to gain employment becomes nil. He virtually becomes a liability to his family. Former Congressman Romeo Jalosjos, despite the fact that he has served time for an offense has never been given the fair calling. Media would still crow that the man is a child rapist and therefore to be deprived of trust and just consideration. Public perception on those who passed through the rigors of incarceration has never been reasonable.
And I don’t quite get it. While society shun someone who was imprisoned, it would gloss over the exploits and hold sacred persons, even construct a pantheon and almost implore supernatural, even heavenly, attributes on, of all people, persons who likewise passed through imprisonment! We knew so well that Dr. Jose Rizal was imprisoned, banished and later executed. (But during Rizal Day, the nation celebrates Rizal’s greatness.) We are also aware of the fact that former Senator Ninoy Aquino was kept in detention for seven years and was almost executed through firing squad (only to die treacherously though). Earlier on, we realized that almost all great men in history were also ex-convicts! (Socrates, Galileo, Thomas More, Miguel de Cervantes, Napoleon, Karl Marx, the list seems endless).
It has been said repeatedly by Napoleon while he was exiled and detained at Elba, that “Judgment is never learned in any college or university….but in prison, I learned much about it.” (Something to that effect). In other words, there is something in prison that captures the essence of learning, the quintessential of schooling and the vortex of training. In prison, learning means rest vs. rust, make or break, hope against dope, strife to life, discord then accord.
While education, the center of prison rehab, does not contain so much institutional support compared with the disciplinary importance of security and safekeeping ever since penal science has been introduced to humanity, it promotes the seed of greatness which great men before us had ingrained. Without it, the world today would still be bleak philosophically. Correctional education may not be that significant at a glance but it is the only component that humanize the whole criminal justice administration.
Government bureaucracy has introduced a lot of rules, based mainly on the number of laws passed, thereby making a government agency the bulwark of rules which an ordinary client would fail even to comprehend the initial purpose. And because the people could not cope with the deluge of rules it must contend with, the legislature, instead of reviewing where it can alleviate the condition, worsened and imposed another confusing layer through the Anti-Red Tape Act of 2007 or RA 9485. Civil Service Commission was tasked to checked offices nationwide last year for compliance and it found out that several agencies failed while a remarkable nay, exceptional few excelled.
The Anti Red Tape Act intends to capture the essence of public service by forcing agencies to reduce the time of every transactional period. But how can agencies do that in the face of circulars, resolutions and laws imploring agencies to introduce more layers for control and revenue purposes. It is contradictory and confusing.
For every rule in government introduced by law there is a corresponding payment. Thereupon, government derives its budgetary lifeline based on the number of controlling layer it must impose. Worst, every layer requires a fixer to unburden the client. The antithesis on this move is the Anti-Red Tape Act. While the law is clear that corruption in government is to be addressed, applying anti red tape principles to a certain extent may complicate solutions. The first approach must be streamlining. This means removing redundant layers. The problem when one transact with government is that there are several requirements needed just to satisfy one request. For every requirement, the concerned party spends time, money and effort. There is sanity and honesty in simplicity.
We have a lot of laws already. Candidates running for the post in Senate and Congress would still court the votes by promising to legislate more. I have yet to hear someone pursuing laws that would reduce laws. Instead of proposing for criminalizing some specific acts, why not propose decriminalizing some acts instead. Why not a law that would streamline, integrate and rationalize, say the correctional service. In Philippine corrections, while there is one subject—the offender, he is faced with multiple approaches and rules to comprehend, complicating his already complicated life. BJMP, Bucor, AFP Custodial Center, NBI, PNP, BI have their respective rules on dealing and in the treatment of the so called persons deprived of liberty (PDL) or inmates, convicts, detainees, whatever. There should be a standard, a national standard to follow. In a fragmented system, there is no standard and as it were, red tape is almost a feature.
Polish born US immigrant in the 50s Dr. Hilary Koprowski, unheard of even in the academe, was a low key virologist who developed, formulated and made global the application of polio vaccine. Polio has since been eradicated, what used to be one of humanity’s medical challenges for ages. Dr. Koprowski crossed over at 96. He changed and improved, if not advanced that science which would finally define man’s quest for immortality.
A Police Director proposed that parents of neglected children should be punished. At first glance, recalling scenarios on street corners, parking lots and marketplace where children, almost a summer older than a toddler, roam in shabby and filthy surroundings, the proposal makes sense. On second look however, it begged for more answers. When children are left roaming the streets, unattended and at the mercy of the elements, the state should take over. Not to punish the irresponsible parents but to exercise parental control over the kids.
National hero, Dr. Jose Rizal on the eve of his execution wrote a poem and the last stanza goes “ Adios, queridos séres morir es descansar.” (Dearly beloved all, farewell! In death there is rest!) Rizal was a busy body and had a lot of enemies mostly the colonial masters of the country then. Pursuing reforms had been a messy affair. He was banished and his family was also implicated. They had to suffer and were haunted in the process. Rizal was never panicky on the way to the gallows. He must be reciting his poem. He knew that dying is finding rest.
My sister, Doris, might have uttered the same phrase for she was witnessing herself slowly weakening and in pain always. She was meticulous in her projections. She evaded pain physically. She abhorred idling even if it means recuperation. Her mind was very active at times to the detriment of her sensitive anatomy. She was a scholar ever since she entered the academe up to the time she left the portal of her school. Even as she ascended in her career, she would still find time to study and earn additional degrees. In between her studies there was motherhood, friendship and organization. At times, she would encounter challenges which she could barely understand. Scholars are in their best element only inside the confines of their classroom but were to a large extent never street smart. They knew reality through notes and readings and never through exposure on the glare and happenstance obtaining outside.
It is no wonder that my sister, ever the scholar in the family, would find her usual bubble inside the school. Before she left this world, she was a month short of earning her nth degree, a doctoral in criminal justice administration.
She went through a lot of struggles mostly in the school setting. Sometimes, frustrations would be encountered and she would be at logger heads with her school, at times on some policy disagreements with her superiors and peers. There were occasions when I will be drawn into it when she would ask for counsel but for street smarts like me, she would retreat hearing something which is never related in dogmatic terms. And so she would recoil back to her enclave tapping theories she must have taken note. Her erudition would never shield her from dissatisfaction though. She could get along and would be recognized later.
It is her flirting with sharing knowledge that made her forget about a healthy lifestyle. She would circumnavigate the world to spread her ideas on technical education. She would fill up her entire calendar of activities, lecturing here, travelling there, and sharing this, explaining that. She was almost everywhere and her schedule was not only backbreaking, it was stupendously haphazard for her frail body. In the end, her internal organs could no longer cope up with her routine. While her mind was designed to defy physics, her body was just too soft to take in physical sacrifices.
She was diagnosed with big C and that was where she began her travails. It was almost a year of struggling to understand and heal her worsening condition. Her body must be subjected to the latest medical procedure using chemicals and radiation as intervention. She must concentrate on her therapy. But having felt relief, even if she still has to fully recuperate, she combined her treatment with school work. She even enrolled in graduate school side by side her regular trips abroad to share studies and conduct conferences. The stress and tensions she introduced into her work system contributed largely to the deterioration of her health. She was no longer the intellectual athletic but her mind could not accept such a situation. She struggled but her physical strength could no longer bear the tenacity of her mind.
In the end, as she probably felt her legs unable to carry her balance, without the appetite that would allow her to taste her favorite dishes, without the looks that could charm her audience, she probably felt that finding rest is the only option available.
To rest means to finally rejoin father and mother and a few of her friends who have gone in life hereafter. She was asleep unmindful of her heart. She must be very, very tired with all the steel invading her body, chemicals she must induce into her system, the rigid medication, the pain, everything. She wished a break, some respite from it all. She must have uttered a small prayer, as always, to remind her of faith and the phrase which she oftentimes would hear declaimed by father, a Spanish professor and a teacher of Rizal Course, “Dearly beloved all…farewell…in death there is rest.”