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IN PHOTOS: Democracy in prison

Roy Lagarde
Posted on 05/14/2013 2:42 AM  | Updated 05/15/2013 2:57 PM

MANILA, Philppines - One of the forgotten sectors in the society has joined the rest of the FIlipino voters, Monday, May 13, in choosing the country’s new leaders.

At least 47,000 non-convicted detainees, most of them first-time voters, cast their votes in the country’s second automated elections.

Among those who voted came from the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) and 211 other detention centers from 140 cities and towns under the supervision of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).

For the 762 detainee voters at the Manila City Jail (MCJ), it was more than just exercising their right to suffrage— it was choosing new breed of leaders who would push programs for their welfare.

Slow judicial process

But the slow judicial process for jail inmates particularly for those who are 70 years old or older is their biggest grievance.

As of May 2013, the MCJ houses 3,334 inmates – an overcapacity rate of two times on 1.2 hectares – making the MCJ one of the most congested jail facilities in the country.

The thing, however, is only 4% percent of the total population are convicted and the rest are awaiting trials.

“This sector is really among the most forgotten so it’s really a big thing for them to be able to participate in the election,” J/Insp Artemio Gayagaya, spokesman of BJMP-MCJ, said.

“Most of their complaints are the slow judicial process. Their hearings are often postponed,” he added.

Limited public lawyers

On average, it takes between 4 months to a year for a prisoner to be arraigned. Gayagaya said court dockets are so overloaded.

“We have a limited number of public lawyers. Some lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office are serving in 2 or even 3 courts. This is the reason for the delay,” he said.

Rodolfo Diamante of the Catholic Church’s prison ministry said 30% of the country’s total number of prisoners have been convicted of crimes while the remaining 70% were classified as detainees.

“And many of these inmates too remain incarcerated just because they cannot afford to post bail,” Diamante said.

Restorative justice

According to him, part of the problem is that the justice system is still based on punitive measures and that as a society, many have internalized punishment as the best method of control.

He said the government needs to move to a restorative justice approach, which focuses on all those affected by the harm crime causes, including the victim, the offenders, and their families.

In countries where restorative justice approach was used, they saw dramatic decreases in crimes.

“In restorative justice, the offenders are given opportunity to repair the damage they’ve done through various creative ways,” said Diamante.

Roy Lagarde is a graduate of the Kondrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism Diploma in Photojournalism program.

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