De Lima pushes for a comprehensive prison reform bill in the Senate


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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has filed a measure establishing prison reform and restorative justice in the country’s correctional system which seeks to make our prison system more effective in the administration of justice while at the same time preparing the inmates towards and effective reintegration with our society.

Being true to her word, De Lima filed Senate Bill (SB) No. 2130, also to be referred as “Prison Reform Act of 2018,” to restore human dignity even if the offender is found guilty of committing a crime.

According to her, the detention of individuals found guilty of committing a crime should provide opportunities for correction and reform to help them restore human dignity and reduce their tendencies to break the law anew.

“This Act recognizes that imprisonment is not a lifetime chain that would eternally bind prisoners in the dark,” she said. “[It will help] persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) prepare for their eventual release back in the society.”

Certain minimum rights for every PDL are underscored and guaranteed.

The proposed measure seeks to establish a more responsive and effective correctional system by introducing rehabilitation and intervention programs based on a continuing assessment system of the inmates that will be formulated from internationally accepted methods, taking into consideration the factors that play vital roles that led the inmates to commit crimes and those that minimize the chances of them committing new ones, shifting from the present sentence-based classification.

Institutional reforms – judicial facility and organizational – are sought to be introduced and institutionalized. These include, among others, an efficient system of automatic release of inmates due for release, an Infrastructure Plan mandating construction of at least one (1) penal facility per region, and an Offender Tracking Information System (OTIS) to serve as central database for all PDLs.

A Reception and Diagnostics Center shall be created within each penal facility tasked to set up a continuing assessment of inmates during their imprisonment and classify them based on their risks, needs or productivity.

The former justice secretary explained that intervention programs created by an Intervention Office should be made available to detainees to help them gain skills that would be helpful in their eventual reintegration back into the community.

These programs include those that are designed to give them basic and advance education or provide them with technical skills, utilize their existing skills and capabilities towards administration of the penal facility or community service, or provide them continuous counselling services to encourage self-improvement.

“To reintegrate them efficiently and peacefully into the community where they once belonged, a system of rehabilitation is vital. Putting them under the hands of law after all, is not the end of their lives but a step towards the rebuilding of a better one, where they can be useful members thereof,” she said.

De Lima also proposed a creation of revenue generating programs for detainees by a Prison Revenue Office in every penal institution to encourage interested prisoners to participate in the Prisoner Employment Program (PEP).

“Through the PEP, qualified prisoners will be provided with opportunities to engage in meaningful and sustainable paid employment, work experience and vocational training inside the penal institution,” she said.

De Lima also pushed for the establishment of a Job Assistance Office to handle the Post-Prison Employment Program that will raise awareness regarding available job opportunities which a prisoner may apply for upon release.

The Senator from Bicol said her proposed measure also underscored the importance of strengthening capacities of those who work in correctional institutions to enhance their general welfare, commitment to service, and professionalism which could translate to how they fulfil their job. To this end, the bill pushes for the creation of a Philippine Correctional Academy and Training Institute.

“As a first step towards the State’s compliance with International Law obligations on respecting the human rights of prisoners and PDLs (persons deprived of liberty), organizational reforms shall be institutionalized, with the end in view of training the officials in whose hands and at whose mercy their rehabilitation and restoration would ultimately depend,” she said.

To address infractions of rules and law, the bill prescribes the creation of a Disciplinary Committee within each penal facility and sets forth the allowable in-prison disciplinary penalties.

Last July, De Lima filed Senate Bill No. 1879 which seeks to integrate the management of the country’s jails and prisons under one agency tasked to provide better treatment and rehabilitation programs for all detainees and prisoners.

In August 2016, De Lima expressed concern over the worse subhuman conditions and congestion inside the country’s jails and penitentiaries, prompting her to file Senate Resolution No. 97 calling for a Senate inquiry into the current state of jails and penitentiaries all over the country.

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