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BJMP: Risk of repeat offenses an issue vs prisoners' release amid pandemic

MANILA, Philippines – As calls mount to release low-risk prisoners amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) said that groups pushing for this should convince courts that those who may gain temporary freedom would not commit crimes.

"One of the issues here is actually on how to present strong evidence to convince the court that those who will be released after having been detained or convicted for low-level and non-violent offenses will not endanger the public or at the very least, will not commit any crime during this public health emergency," BJMP Spokesperson Xavier Solda said in a message to reporters on Wednesday, April 8.

No less than United Nation (UN) rights chief Michelle Bachelet had recommended the release of prisoners amid the pandemic, echoed by both international and local human rights groups who advocated for the release of at least sick, elderly, or low-risk offenders. Several countries have already released low-risk prisoners amid the pandemic.

Solda said another question was whether the detainees or convicts can be counted upon to return to jail promptly.

"And should they be temporarily released, can the group who is calling for it assure the public that that those people will return immediately once asked to return?" said Solda.

In an earlier position paper, prison reform experts Raymund Narag and Clarke Jones said prisoners will be released on bail or avail of the mechanism called self-recognizance, which is a written promise to the court that he or she will show up for hearings.

"As a condition, the PDLs (Persons Deprived of Liberty) will provide a promise to appear on the court-appointed dates. The wardens will get their addresses and the contact information of their relatives for monitoring," said Narag and Jones.

Interior Secretary Eduardo Año earlier said prisoners were "safer inside" the detention facilities. The BJMP is under the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

Solda echoed Año. "At present, the PDLs are safer inside our jails, with us. If they will be out, as some groups is proposing, how can these groups assure the public that those PDLs who will be released will not contact the virus?" he asked.

Solda said as of Wednesday, BJMP facilities remained coronavirus-free.

Earlier, a female paralegal working at the Quezon City Jail Male Dormitory tested positive for the coronavirus, the first confirmed case among their personnel.

Prisoners dying?

The New Bilibid Prison (NBP) under the Bureau of Corrections also maintained on Wednesday that the national penitentiary was coronavirus-free.

But reports have surfaced about deaths inside Bilibid since the outbreak.

Without directly confirming the number of deaths since the outbreak, BuCor Spokesperson Gabriel Chaclag said, "Meron namang namamatay talaga (There are really deaths) due to sickness but the doctors know best when they should be tested for COVID-19."

Chaclag said they follow the Department of Health (DOH) rules on who should get tested for coronavirus – those who have prior travel history, contact with a confirmed case, the elderly, and those with underlying medical conditions.

"So far there is no candidate for COVID-19 test," said Chaclag.

He said any request to free prisoners amid the pandemic shall be coursed through the court. (READ: Elderly prisoners, detainee with leprosy ask SC to release them amid pandemic)

"That is the proper forum.... They should go to the court. BuCor will only execute or implement orders of the courts, and from the Department of Justice (DOJ)," said Chaclag. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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