Philippines to build more prisons

Inmates look out from their cell in Quezon City Jail. Originally built for 800 inmates, the prison now houses almost 4,000. The overcrowded conditions at the prison have prompted the government to build new facilities.
Inmates look out from their cell in Quezon City Jail. Originally built for 800 inmates, the prison now houses almost 4,000. The overcrowded conditions at the prison have prompted the government to build new facilities.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MANILA • Philippine officials said yesterday that the government would build new jails to address severe congestion made worse by President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war, describing conditions as "inhumane" and "unacceptable".

Photographs of Quezon City Jail, where thousands of inmates take turns to sleep on an open-air basketball court and a staircase, were an "eye-opener" for the authorities to hasten the construction of a new facility, according to vice- mayor Joy Belmonte.

Quezon City officials on Monday signed an agreement to donate land to the national government for a new prison. The facility in the northern district of Manila would replace the jail built six decades ago for 800 inmates but now houses almost 4,000.

"The photos are really unacceptable. Seeing inmates sleep on top of each other because of a lack of space, I feel it's a violation of human rights, an urgent matter that must be addressed," Ms Belmonte said.

"It's good that this is exposed before the international reading public as an eye-opener," added the vice-mayor, who said she had heard reports of overcrowding before but visited the facility for the first time in July with an Agence France-Presse photographer.

Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno said the government would allocate funds to build new jails. Eighty per cent of new detainees are accused of drug-related crimes resulting from Mr Duterte's crackdown.

Mr Duterte, who took office on June 30, ordered a bloody war on crime that has left 889 people dead since the May elections, according to the country's largest broadcaster ABS-CBN.

Police have reported arresting more than 5,000 people for drug offences as part of the campaign.

Mr Sueno said his department was also planning the construction of more rehabilitation centres.

"(President Duterte) is really concerned not just about arrests but also the rehabilitation of drug addicts," the minister said.

Even before Mr Duterte's presidency, the Philippine penal system was ranked as the third most congested in the world, according to the University of London's Institute for Criminal Policy Research.

In Quezon City, the government is working with the International Committee of the Red Cross to finalise the design for a new facility that can house 6,000 inmates by 2019.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 10, 2016, with the headline 'Philippines to build more prisons'. Print Edition | Subscribe