Philippine jails: Space jam

Edson Guido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 11 2017 03:13 PM

SEVEN months after President Duterte launched his war on drugs, the number of inmates nationwide ballooned to six times beyond the jails’ original capacity.

As authorities haul in more and more suspected drug pushers and users, new problems have cropped up in jail management and administration.

Official statistics show, as of January 31, 2017, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) had 131,530 inmates spread across its 466 jails nationwide. The jails have a collective capacity of only 20,399 inmates. 

This is equivalent to a 544.8 percent congestion rate, an increase from 397.6 percent in BJMP’s September 30, 2015 data.

In 2015, Haiti had the world’s most congested jails with a 454 percent congested rate, according to the University of London’s Institute for Criminal Policy Research.

Central Luzon tops list

Jails in Central Luzon (Region III) were the most congested. Built to hold only 1,235 inmates, they are now temporary homes to over 12,918 – a staggering 10 inmates per one-person space. 

In Southern Luzon, Zambo

CALABARZON (Region IV-A) and Zamboanga Peninsula (Region IX) were also in this year’s Top 3 most congested regions with rates of 907.3 and 714.3 percent, respectively.

In September 2015, Central Luzon, CALABARZON and Zamboanga Peninsula also topped the congestion list.

In Metro Manila

The National Capital Region fared slightly better than the rest of Luzon, but still badly congested. From September 2015 to January 2017, the number of inmates increased by 9,175. The capacity went up by only 52.

In 2015, there were more than four inmates occupying space that could comfortably accommodate only one person. By 2017, that figure had gone up to more than six inmates in a space fit for one. 

ARMM, CAR least congested

In contrast, jails in Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and Cordillera Administrative Region had the lowest congestion rates. Of all the regions, ARMM alone had enough jail space – with 255 inmates in facilities that could fit 275. 


What the war on drugs did

How much of the increase in BJMP’s congestion rates could be attributed to the Duterte administration’s crackdown on illegal drugs?

Because of the war on drugs, total inmates with drug cases shot up by 81.1 percent from 46,276 inmates in late 2015, to 83,817 in early 2017.

In September of 2015, less than half of the inmates were in jail due to illegal drugs. In January of 2017, more than six of every 10 inmates were in detention on drug complaints or charges.


Central Luzon, which had the most congested jails, also had the highest proportion of inmates with drug cases at 73.2 percent in January 2017, up from 60.5 percent in September 2015. 

On the other hand, ARMM and CAR, the two regions with the least congested jails, were the ones with the lowest percentages of inmates with drug cases.



What are the consequences? According to the Commission on Audit’s “2016 Annual Financial Report for the National Government”, heavy congestion in BJMP resulted in unhealthy living conditions for the inmates.

Congestion in jails also triggers riots, as was the case in an overcrowded Quezon City jail last month, resulting in death and injuries.

To improve inmates’ living conditions, government needs to build more and bigger jail facilities. It also needs to speed up resolution of cases to avoid prolonged detention. De-clogging court dockets will help decongest jails.

As government moves to address the country’s drug problems, it has to make sure the infrastructure and legal processes are keeping pace.


Source of data on jail congestion: Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP)