Private jails

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    A PERSON deprived of liberty (PDL) arrives at the New Bilibid Prison to serve a light or medium sentence for a lesser crime. Inside the Bilibid, he is introduced to a life of want for weak and marginalized prisoners, and abundance for rich, influential and powerful drug lords. The newcomer soon becomes acquainted with the hardened convicts, those guilty of heinous crimes such as murder and rape, and also those in big-time traffic of illegal drugs.

    He soon transforms into one of them, and all hopes for penal reformation dissipate.

    Such is the tragedy for most common prisoners, further reinforced by our penal system that is corrupted both by design and by implementation, where legal loopholes exist and are being exploited by corrupt and greedy prison officials.

    Sen. Francis “Tol” Tolentino would have none of this. At a recent exchange on the plenary hall of the Senate, Sen. Tolentino proposed the idea of having private companies build and operate modern jail facilities specifically for non-heinous crimes convicts.

    In his interpellation on Senate Bill 1055 which seeks to build state-of-the-art prison facilities for heinous crimes convicts, Tolentino stressed that “privatization of prisons will… ensure public safety, as well as the safety of inmates, by isolating the most violent and vicious offenders inside a highly secured and detached facility.”

    One good thing about Sen. Tol, the neophyte senator, is that he backs up every idea and every word he utters in the Senate with full research and intense study, so that he can tangle with more senior lawyers and lawmakers like Richard Gordon and Franklin Drilon with equally competent mien.

    Tolentino said the number of PDLs in the country is fewer than in the United States and other countries in Southeast Asia, thus making the suggestion of private prisons a practical one. In Australia, Japan and Thailand, prisons are privately run, he pointed out.

    Tol’s idea is for the private sector to construct at no expense to the government and manage the jails, maintain non-sovereign functions like laundry, kitchen and general maintenance, but the prison facilities will be guarded by the Bureau of Corrections.

    At first blush, this proposal is simple and doable, and it behooves the government to give it serious consideration, in the wake of the scandals and embarrassment that we have had with the New Bilibid Prison.

    All out-of-the-box ideas and suggestions should be welcomed by Congress.