A ROADMAP TOWARD SYSTEMIC INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE IN THE PHILIPPINE CORRECTIONAL SYSTEM
Over the past two decades, the Bureau of Corrections has been in need of meaningful institutional improvement in the areas of corrections management, prisoner rehabilitation programs, and in the optimum utilization of its natural resources. The fact that Correctional Administration is one of the main pillars of the criminal justice system, in equal footing with law enforcement, prosecution, the court and the community, it is imperative that the correctional system be given its due importance and attention.
The constant turnover in prison leadership who, by tradition or accommodation, have come from the field of law enforcement, bringing with them a background of a different training and set of personal priorities. A firm grasp on the management and operational systems required for an effective Bureau of Corrections, and for the stability and continuity of policies, can only be delivered by a leadership that is prepared, trained, and experienced in the field of correctional administration. It is in the training and competence where the critical difference lies.
Correctional administration is in charge of the prison community, a sector populated by offensive persons, pure predators, social outcasts and emotionally deranged individuals. It is not an ordinary institution, not unlike a facility for priesthood or a seminary for compassion. It has been said that prisons is the home of the scums and dregs of society, a place where the only language of hope is dependent on rehabilitation. A leader who is not primed on this mandate of government will, therefore, be the very antithesis of success. If there is failure in corrections, the entire balance of criminal justice administration is tilted and public safety is, therefore, compromised. This is the state of Philippine Corrections today. It is graft ridden, corruption laden, incompetently managed, despite or in spite of the idealism of its career officers, practitioners, and volunteers.
Nuances of Prison Administration
It is doubtful whether any prison administrator (past and current) ever attempted to deeply understand the prison community. Priority was given to the dynamics of supplies for the prisoners, evidently, the source of corrupt deals and instant commissions. Prison administrators were never aware that gangs and syndicates are actually running the affairs in prison. Prison Directors, coming from different persuasions, were immediately blinded by innuendoes and intrigues surreptitiously coming from organized gangs through seemingly innocent networks to further their own nefarious ends. The ambiguity results in the prison leadership’s deviation from the main job of addressing the problems of correctional administration. As a consequence, correctional management is mediocre and this failure in prison service is manifested in gross mismanagement of resources, both human, natural, and institutional. While the Director and his staff hems and hews, the prison community continues its trek toward the road of perdition.
Relevant Hypothetical Questions
Is the prison director to be appointed prepared for the challenge of realizing the President’s declared policy for a corrupt-free prison service? First of all, does the potential appointee know that prison gangs ought to be abolished to carry out his mission to further achieve this end? This may seem to be an easy task to comprehend, but is he up to the challenge of understanding how this can be done?
This is just for starters on operational issues. On a personal level, can he resist the pressure of organized mafia or will he just coast along and enjoy the perks of his office, in the course of which, he may just dismiss any attempt to pursue the national effort to eradicate graft and corruption?
Purpose of this Paper
A roadmap toward systemic institutional change is being put forward within the purview of the legal mandate or purpose of the Bureau of Corrections, as follows:
- Security – To confine persons who are convicted by the courts to serve a sentence in national prisons; and to prevent prisoners from committing crimes while in custody;
- Rehabilitation – To provide humane treatment by affording the inmates’ basic human needs in the prison environment and prohibiting cruel methods; and, to provide a variety of rehabilitation programs designed to change their pattern of criminal or anti-social behavior; and,
- Development – To engage in agro-industrial projects for the purpose of developing prison lands and resources into productive bases or profit centers, developing and employing inmate manpower skills and labor, providing prisoners with a source of income, and augmenting the Bureau’s yearly appropriations.
In meeting these mandates, the roadmap is envisaged to lead toward:
- Organizational strengthening through the upgrading of physical facilities and standardization of equipment; personnel matching with the growing prison population and with the official functions in penal facilities; pay grade parity of organic and civilian employees with agencies having similar custodial functions; adoption of available information and security technology; and, the establishment of regional Correctional Institutions for Women.
- Firm policies on operational practices that will be most advantageous to the institution, and for the effective management of the prison population (both employees and inmates alike), and uplifting programs for the rehabilitation of prisoners.
- Judicious and legal approach to the development of the natural resources of all penal farms, with the intent to satisfy the prison community’s food sufficiency requirements, and for commercial production toward revenue generation in satisfying its development mandate.
- Review of all prison laws and their corresponding implementing rules and regulations that would eventually lead to the drafting of a present-day relevant Corrections Act for endorsement to Congress.
Perspective on the Process
While the process of instituting systemic change is envisaged to be implemented over the 6-year incumbency of President-elect Benigno C. Aquino III, it may be put in motion immediately considering the personal knowledge of correctional operations intimately for the past 35 years of service. The execution of these legal mandate is anchored also on the strength of its organization, and the vision and political will of its leadership; on the adoption of up-to-date practices to security and rehabilitation; on policies with regard to asset development; and, on innovative financing modes to undertake and ensure that the development of assets satisfy solely the first two mandates of security and rehabilitation.
To illustrate, the roadmap aims to address BuCor’s “Security” mandate of ‘confining persons convicted by the courts, and the prevention of crime while in custody’. It is common knowledge that the present physical facilities of prisons are overcrowded, according to the area-per-prisoner human rights measure of the United Nations, and that existing security technology and equipment are outdated based on international corrections standard.
This congestion exacerbates the difficulties of security management, and for effecting rehabilitation of prisoners. Moreover, there are many instances of prisoners, while their cases are on appeal, being incarcerated beyond the required time commensurate to their offense or sentence. This can be attributed to an inadequate administrative system that fails to monitor and flag such negligent occurrences.
As a result, the government not only violates human rights but incurs unnecessary expenses for prisoners who should no longer be confined. However, in the light of government’s present financial hardships, solving both the logistical limitations and security concerns of its penal system is untenable by conventional methodology. This situation presents an opportune moment for formulating policies that would raise funds from the development of its assets whose proceeds are to be applied solely for institutional improvements of all of the BuCor’s Prisons and Penal Farms and Correctional Institutions for Women, to name just a couple of objectives:
- Upgrading physical facilities to be at par with international corrections standard, and/or expand the inmates’ confinement area to meet acceptable human rights measure; and,
- Applying available information technology for an administrative monitoring and tracking system of prisoners’ records and schedule of hearings; and, to flag the point where custodial and civilian employees are qualified for benefits or promotion.
First 100 days
Toward this end, the following activities will be undertaken to enable the BuCor to assess the scope and pre-requisites of the subsequent actions to be taken to realize systemic institutional improvements:
- Conduct a financial, asset, personnel and performance audit to determine the current financial position, asset inventory, personnel ratio for administrative and custodial functions, salary grades, and the upgrading or addition of physical structures required for meeting the needs of the current bulging prison population.
- Installation of an Information Technology System to capture and store critical information digitally on employees’ service records, and on each prisoner’ confinement record. This shall serve as the basis for establishing promotions standards for employees. This system should also be able to track the time served from the prisoners’ sentence, and pave the way for their release, if warranted, to decongest the present prison facilities and reduce operating costs. It is estimated that some 5% of the present prison population would fall under this category.
- Review and evaluation of all policies pertaining to prison operations and custodial practices, toward formulating operational policies that would break up gang affiliations and declare essential assets as contraband with the end in view of regaining full control of the prison, instead of the gangs and their assets controlling the employees.
- Review and evaluation of all catering contracts pertaining to the food ration of prisoners, toward formulating policies that would reactivate and strengthen the production of appropriate penal farms for basic staple food and livestock products in order that BuCor will become a net exporter beyond the requirements of the institution and the prison community.
- Investigate the situation of the Correctional Institute for Women, and study the need for establishing regional facilities for women, as what had been initiated by this officer for the establishment of CIW in Mindanao in collaboration with the private sector, as well as for the installation of an Assistant Director for Corrective Programs for Women.
- Inventory and valuate all fixed assets of the agency, as well as determine its legal documentation which will lead to the full survey and titling of prison lands for future development by administration or in joint venture with third parties. Such inventory and asset valuation shall be the basis for formulating innovative financing approaches to support the agency’s mandate and programs.
- Review and evaluate all existing Joint Venture Agreements pertaining to prison lands, and determine whether the agency is receiving its revenue share based on fair market standards.
- Formulate policies that the revenues to be generated from the development of land resources, beyond those that are needed for the internal consumption of the prison community, shall be solely for programs of the prison and penal farm, and for the upgrading of physical structures, and the installation of administrative and security systems, and for programs focusing on prisoner rehabilitation, as mentioned above.
- Compilation and annotation of all pertinent prison laws and rules for the purpose of drafting a current and relevant Corrections Act for endorsement to Congress into law. It will be noted that the Prisons Act of 1917 is still being adopted, and is obviously outmoded in the context of present-day setting. For the past 30 years, no laws were passed to enhance or advance the cause of corrective service in the country.
While this paper reflects the personal thoughts of the undersigned, it is being put forward from opinions and observations derived from 35 years of service with the Bureau of Corrections, and is presented for the single purpose of instilling reforms from within the system in order that the agency may function with blueprint for the continuity of its policies and programs as an institution, regardless of future changes in its leadership.
It is recognized that after the conclusion of the above activities for first 100 days, it is only then that the real work will commence and envisaged to be set in place as a blueprint for Correction Administration within the next 6-year term of President Benigno C. Aquino III. This paper does not claim to be comprehensive but it will point out the more critical and urgent needs that have to be addressed. For this purpose, it will be a work-in-progress and its development toward putting flesh into it is one that only organic personnel from within the Bureau of Corrections can be sensitive to.
In conclusion, with the background, training, and operational experience of the undersigned in prison administration, and without being self-serving, the following parting questions are put forward for appreciation: Is there a better-than-even chance that the proposed systemic institutional changes can be realized? Are we really sincere in abolishing corrupt practices within the Bureau of Corrections? Are we familiar with, and prepared to instill rehabilitation programs that will restore hope for the incarcerated humanity, preparatory to ushering them back as productive members of mainstream society? Can all these institutional changes be implemented via innovative financing modes outside the general appropriations budget? Do we have the sincerity of heart and the political will to see these through?
The answers to these questions lie in this paper ‘Roadmap Toward Systemic Institutional Change in the Philippine Correctional System’, and in the preparedness and competence of the career officers to see them through.
VENANCIO J. TESORO
Prison Superintendent IV
Bureau of Correction