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CHR seeks immediate decongestions of jails amid COVID-19 pandemic

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has called on the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) to move for decongestion of jails amid the increasing number of inmates getting infected with COVID-19.

CHR spokesperson and lawyer Jacqueline de Guia made the pitch after 18 inmates and one jail staff in the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City tested positive for COVID-19.

Likewise, at least 76 inmates in New Bilibid Prisons are suspected of having COVID-19 as of Tuesday, April 21.

“The increasing number of jails with COVID-19 poses a growing threat to the health of persons deprived of liberty (PDLs). This necessitates urgent and decisive action to ensure that they are protected from the virus,” de Guia said.

“Comprehensive decongestion plans and efforts still need to be rolled out swiftly, given the urgency of the situation. There is a need to move fast in establishing an ad hoc committee that will map out the guidelines for the temporary release of qualified PDLs, such as the elderly and the sick, those jailed for non-violent offenses, and first time offenders among others,” de Guia added.

CHR has earlier recommended the temporary release of light offenders amid the COVID-19 pandemic, to help manage the population in jails considering the inmates' vulnerability to the infectious disease due to congestion, jail conditions and the impossibility of enforcing physical distancing in most places of detention.

On reiterating such call, the CHR argued that PDLs have the same inherent dignity and right to health as the general population, and as such,  their health and life should not be imperiled while in custody.

“We also recommend that such release addresses issues that PDLs will most likely encounter once they set foot outside of detention. These are transportation of PDLs back to their place of origin, support to those with no relatives, and assistance to the PDLs and their families during the period of crisis,” de Guia pointed out.

“In our united effort to heal, humanitarian ideals should prevail even as we ensure  accountability to crimes and offenses. Let this be manifested through the equal protection of the rights and dignity of the last, the lost, and the least in our society,” she added.

The CHR welcomed the initial move of the Supreme Court directing the first- and second-level court judges to review pending criminal cases towards the release of qualified PDLs.

Such a move, the CHR said, is in accordance with the Supreme Court's 2014 guidelines on jail decongestion by enforcing the right of the accused persons to bail and speedy trial.

“It is hoped that this will be implemented with expediency for decongestion to begin,” de Guia said.

In addition to decongestion, the CHR also called for risk mitigation measures to be put in place which include ensuring access to water and hygiene products; regular disinfection and sanitation of cells; provision of information about COVID-19, establishing healthcare protocols; and, ensuring medical care and mental health services for all detainees, especially those infected. —LDF, GMA News