Philippine jails

IN NUMBERS: Philippines’ perennial problem on jail congestion

Jairo Bolledo
IN NUMBERS: Philippines’ perennial problem on jail congestion

DETAINEES. Detainees inside the Manila City Jail attend the 'Pabasa' also known as 'Pasyon,' an uninterrupted chanting narrating the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, inside the Manila City Jail on April 12.


As of July 2022, the national congestion rate stands at 396%, according to the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology

MANILA, Philippines – For the past years, the Philippines has had a perennial problem in jails: extreme congestion. 

Under the law, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) was created to address the country’s problem on jail management. The BJMP maintains district, city, and municipal jails in the country. 

The jail bureau houses persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) “accused before a court who are temporarily confined in such jails while undergoing investigation, waiting final judgment, and those who are serving sentences promulgated by the court 3 years and below.” 

But even with the presence of such a bureau, Philippine jails still suffer from overpopulation. 

IN NUMBERS: Philippines’ perennial problem on jail congestion
National jail congestion rate 

In total, the BJMP oversees 476 district, city, and municipal jails nationwide, based on the bureau’s data, as of July 2022. 

Of the total number of jails in the Philippines, 336 are considered congested, equivalent to 70.59% of the total. Meanwhile, less than half or 140 jails (only 29.41%) are not congested, based on the jail bureau’s data. 

According to the BJMP, the national congestion rate is at 396%. This means around five PDLs are sharing a 4.7-square-meter space or a space intended for only one PDL. 

Most congested jails 

The country’s most congested jails can be found in Calabarzon – in Rizal and in Cavite. 

Based on the BJMP’s latest data, the San Mateo Municipal Jail remains the country’s most congested jail with a 2,836% congestion rate. The Rizal jail is followed by the Dasmariñas City Jail Male Dormitory with its 2,464% congestion rate, and Muntinlupa City Jail Male Dormitory with a 2,453% congestion rate. 

What about jail standards? 
  • In its 2021 annual audit report, the Commission on Audit (COA) flagged the congestion problem and said the BJMP does not follow the United Nations Minimum Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and BJMP Manual on Habitat, Water, Sanitation, and Kitchen in Jails. 
  • Based on United Nations rules, PDLs should have “accommodation provided for the use of prisoners and in particular all sleeping accommodation shall meet all requirements of health, due regard being paid to climatic conditions and particularly to cubic content of air, minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation.” 
  • PDLs who are inside detention shall have a separate sleeping area: “be provided with a separate bed, and with separate and sufficient bedding which shall be clean when issued, kept in good order and changed often enough to ensure its cleanliness.”

  • The current congestion of Philippine jails is not compliant with the BJMP’s own manual, which sets the ideal habitable floor area per inmate at 4.7 square meters with one toilet and one wash area. Each cell is also required to have a bath area to be shared by two PDLs.
What to do? 

In the same 2021 audit report, the COA recommended three approaches to the BJMP to address the congestion: 

  • Continue representations with local government units and national government agencies for possible lot donations and eventually build additional jail facilities

  • Include in the BJMP’s budget provision for capital outlay for the construction, improvement, or expansion of jails

  • The COA also recommends reviewing the good conduct time allowance process and facilitating the early release of qualified PDLs. – 

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering the police, crime, military, and security.