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THE PROBLEM WITH CALLING A SPADE A SPADE

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Senator Madam Miriam Santiago’s legislative proposal entitled “No Frills Act”   essentially declares that incarceration should be plain and simple captivity.  In her pronouncement, she believes that prisoners, even detainees for that matter, should spend time in a facility FOR punishment.  Never mind the dictum “a person is imprisoned AS punishment and NOT FOR punishment.”

Senator Santiago was emphatic as she sounded, “These prisoners are supposed to be experiencing punishment for their crimes, not taking a vacation.  They are making a mockery out of the justice system by turning our jails into their own private resorts.”   Had there been this law in operation during the time of Jose Rizal, there would have been no Dapitan at all.

In her estimation, all persons under custody of law should bear the brunt of pain of loneliness and seclusion.  For her, spade should be called a spade.  That is also what retribution is.  The State must punish those who violated the law and it is not enough to segregate the offender, he should also suffer during the period of his servitude.  Hence, she is advancing through a resolution that penal facilities should remain as it is, a mere confinement area.

For Senator Santiago, “It does not matter whether you’re a Johnny caught picking pockets or a Johnny charged with plunder.  All detainees and prisoners whether common criminals or senators, should have the same accommodations.”

As such, inmates should never have television sets, radio and anything electronics.  They should be isolated totally and deprived of anything that would spell out communications.  Like all penal facilities, prisoners should be crammed in overcrowded camps, mixed in congested fashion and so what if faces would interchange in jam packed prison cells as long as their prison term is served, that would have served the purpose of judicial prescription.

Madam Santiago was a career trial judge before her political star rose.  Her world view of prison is therefore understandable. She was a feared symbol of judicial competence.  Her stature as an incorruptible government official made her reputation as a future leader.  She could have been elected as President and made all Filipinos proud as a race.  For the middle class, she was their “iron lady”, a Lee Kwan Yu, political savior, the mother of perpetual vigilance.

She detested mediocrity in whatever form.  In the process, she earned a following (including me not because her sister is my best friend but because her ideals reflect those of mine too) and a number of detractors too.  In a society that is shamelessly governed in a criminal way, she was an outsider, with a questionable mind.  She was an outsider to her peers, a villain to most of her colleagues.

Recently, the feisty senator filed on February, 2014 Senate Resolution 525, urging the Senate to conduct a probe into the reported “extravagant lifestyle of rich prisoners and the double standard applied in treating inmates” at the NBP.  This has been reported in media and whatever is projected in mass communication, oftentimes, is accepted as real and biblically true.  Ironically, if the issue refers to those in power, media is always wrong.

Senator Santiago earlier filed the “No Frills Prison Bill” or Senate Bill no. 1759, proposing measures to prevent the favoured treatment for select inmates.  The Bill was filed on October 2, 2013.

The Bill prohibits in-cell television viewing, unmonitored phone calls except with legal counsel and immediate family, possession of pornographic materials, less than 40 hours of work a week, use of computers and combat training equipment, among others to an inmate who already earned good behaviour credits.  Accordingly, a prisoner serving a sentence for a crime of violence which resulted in serious body harm, the list of prohibitions is even more exhaustive.  They are not allowed less than 9 hours a day of physical labor unless physically restrained to render work, leave prison premises for any purpose unless under handcuffs and constant escort of at least one armed officer, inter-prison travel for competitive sports, possession of personal property exceeding seventy five (75) pounds or what can be contained in a standard-sized bag, among others.

The Bill “aims to prevent luxurious conditions in prisons particularly for selected prisoners.”  It was prompted by reports before when then prisoner, former Representative Romeo Jalosjos allegedly had his own personal bathtub at the NBP.

The Senator argued “How can there be justice in our correctional system when we have a double standard between the poor and rich inmates?”

Of course, under the air of corrections, there is a levelled playing field.  If at all there was deference for those considered celebrity inmates, it is their fellow inmates that confer said adulation.  The prison community has its respective atmosphere and culture only its denizens could express.  For prison administration, all inmates are plain statistics.  The Bill “No Frills Prison Act” must sit well in a well-funded penal facility where every correctional standard on space and program are observed, where prison officers are provided for with upgraded professional compensation, regular security and technology based instruments, where judicial decisions are perfected and no errors committed as in releasing inmates after years of incarceration because of acquittal.  Further more, correctional administration should be a career consideration without any political contemplation.

 

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“UNORTHODOX” PRISON PRACTICE

prison cells

“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.

 

HOW PRISONERS ARE TREATED AROUND THE WORLD

prisoner treatment

It has been said that once a person is sentenced to serve time, the penalty for incarceration is in itself the punishment already.  Once confined in a penal facility (or in the case of a community-based corrective approach, supervised as probationer or parolee), the person is no longer subject to retribution.  Otherwise, the penalty is multiplied two-fold, that is, segregated from family and community of orientation and then subjected to humiliating exploitation while imprisoned.  That is not what the law intends in the first place.  There is only one penalty for an offense.  And that is to be under the custody of law for a period of time.

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There are prison facilities that require prisoners to earn their upkeep.  The maintenance cost for their subsistence is deserved in the course of their defined work or assignment while serving time.  Other prison settings are organized to conduct a highly productive environment where workshops are designed virtually like factories.  In other countries, prisons are closed environments where security is a principal tenet and inmate movements measured to a certain degree.  Prisoners in closed prison setting are involved in institutional production activities confined in workshops and factories within the walls.

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Various countries have their respective expression of handling and treating their prisoners.  In Mexico, prisoners are compelled to learn a skill otherwise they will never be recommended for any form of executive clemency.  In said country, they have a correctional policy called “No Skill-No Release” program.

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In Australia, prisoners are compelled to be craftsmen.  All furniture, chairs and tables including cabinets and office dividers used by government are built in prisons.  In Canada, prison inmates are not only tasked for carpentry works but also contracted for punching out license plates of motor vehicles.

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In Hong Kong, prison facilities are virtually workshops where public works contract the fabrication of street signs and road marks.  In Japan, prisoners are conscripted to work on factories inside prison tasked on manpower intensive computer spare parts engineering and manufacturing.  There are facilities also which maintain breweries, manned and maintained by prisoners.

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In China, prisoners are marched as a group in penal farms on horticultural patches  where they cultivate and maintain vast areas for gardening and related agro production program.  Furthermore, prisoners under institutional care and confinement are also tapped in lucrative Internet gaming work.

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In England, prisoners are assigned on correctional studios and trained for high-quality craftwork, interior design commissions and heritage pieces for organizations.

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In India, inmates build furniture, sew uniforms and make eco-friendly paper and office supplies for the country’s police and courts.

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In Brazil, the concentration is on education more than production.  Accordingly, prison administration engage idle prisoners by shaving time of their sentences in return for reading books.  Thus, a prisoner can get four days off for each book read, confirmed by a written book report, to a maximum of 48 days a year.

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In Tijar Jail, the largest prison complex in South Asia, inmates are turned into profitable producer of goods ranging from food products to shoes.  Its bakery produces some of the country’s most popular bread, biscuits and muffins.  The proceeds of these productive activities are directed to help victims of crime.

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In Africa, the waste of prisoners are compacted in a dungeon like facility and its methane content translated into biogas which supply not only the electrical power for the facility but also, the energy requirements of the neighboring towns.

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In Israel, prisoners are treated clinically.  In this manner, a prisoner goes out as one of a group escorted by a senior prison officer.  If he satisfies the terms of such groups and performs well with no lapses, then he will be transferred to an individual rehabilitation track, whereby he will go out to work or study alone and unescorted to cope by himself with the pressures of work or study.  Before he receives his release, he will live in a hostel and spend each weekend on home leave with his family.

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In Indonesia, they still maintain an island prison much like Alcatraz where the main preoccupation of prisoners is on fishery and on teak and rubber tree plantation.  In neighboring Malaysia, prisoners are no longer given rock-breaking work but more on coconut pounding routine.  Their facilities are designed where congestion is checked and welfare of prisoners promoted.

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In the Philippines, prisoners under limited movement are enrolled in academic sequences, compelled to participate in literary courses and assigned on handicraft or vocational program.  Those who are about to be released and are designated in penal colonies are allowed to immerse in farm work and compensated for their productive output.  Education (formal and informal) remains as the backbone of institutional rehabilitation program.

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THIS MADE ME SMILE

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Overheard conversation from two boys:

Juan:  “Bakit panay ang iyak ng baby ninyo kagabi?”

Pedro:  “Eh sa iyo mangyari naman, wala kang ipin, wala kang buhok at yung binti mo mahiha at hindi ka makalakad o makatayo, siguro naman iiyak ka din.”

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During a prison education class, the math teacher asked the newly enrolled inmate students if they have already learned counting.  A youthful offender stood up to be recognized.

The teacher was very appreciative, “Okay, sige nga, simulan natin.  Ibigay mo ang bilang mula isa hanggan sa dulo.”

The student began, “ Isa, dalawa, tatlo, apat, lima, anim, pito, walo, siyam, sampu, palaso, hari, reyna at jack!”

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A teen ager was listening to a song in a nearby bistro when another youthful fellow saw him.

Coco:  “hahaha! Ang baduy mo talaga, mga lumang kanta na yan ah!”

Paolo:  “hehehe, oo nga, ikaw din, matanda na lola mo pero pinakikinggan mo pa rin siya!”

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In the same prison education class, the chemistry teacher wanted to teach the inmates about the evils of alcohol.  And so he produced an experiment that involved a glass of water, a glass of whiskey and two worms.

“Tingnan ninyo ang bulate,” said the teacher putting a worm first into the water.  The worm in the water swam happily around.

The second worm, he put into the whiskey.  It writhed painfully, and quickly sank to the bottom, dead as a doornail.

“Ngayon, ano ang leksyon na nakita ninyo sa ganitong experimento?” the teacher asked.

An interested inmate at the back raised his hand and wisely responded, “Uminom ng alak para hindi  bulatiin!”

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Historians from US, Japan and Philippines were boasting on how developed their ancient civilization used to be.

US historian: “ Naghukay kami at nakitang may kable na patungo sa mga lungsod.  Ang ibig sabihin nito ay may telepono na kami noong araw pa!”

Japanese historian:  “Medyo huli na kayo pala, hehehe.  Kami may nahukay na optical fiber na.  Mas advance pa rin kami kaysa inyo!”

Philippine historian:  “Nakaka-awa pala kayo noong araw.  Kami walang nahukay miski na sa pinaka-malalim na lugar.  Ibig sabihin niyan, noong araw pa, kami ay naka wifi na!”

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