Philippine church official lauds move to strike jail terms for minor crimes

Proposal to reduce overcrowding will also give offenders chance to reintegrate themselves into society, he says
Philippine church official lauds move to strike jail terms for minor crimes

The Philippines' jails and prisons are known to be among the world's most overcrowded prisons. (File photo by Vincent Go)

A Philippine church official has welcomed the passing of a bill in Congress this week that seeks to reduce prison overcrowding by imposing community service instead of jail terms for minor offenses.

The Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care has for years been advocating the adoption of the measure as part of its campaign for "restorative justice."

Commission executive secretary, Rodolfo Diamante, said the move is "laudable" because church leaders have long been calling for alternatives to imprisonment.

"The United Nations had urged member countries since 1990 to consider non-custodial measures in the treatment of offenders," said Diamante.

He said the U.N.’s so-called Tokyo Rules seeks alternatives to imprisonment like community service, work and study furlough.

Under the bill passed by the Philippine Senate this week, a court may require a defendant to do community service, as long as the offense is minor.

The defendant must do community service in the area where the crime was committed.

Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, said the proposal would give defendants "a chance to change, rehabilitate and reintegrate themselves into the community."

Upon the completion of community service, the court shall then order the defendant’s release unless there is a need for detention for some other crime.

The senator said the country’s prison overcrowding rate is at 436 percent "making it the world’s second highest most overcrowded prison system in the world, next to Haiti."

Bishop Joel Baylon, chairman of the prison pastoral care commission, earlier called on the government to treat prisoners "humanely."

"They may be deprived of freedom, but jails should not deprive them of their basic human rights, among which is better living conditions in cells," he said in an interview.

Diamante described conditions and facilities in jails and prisons across the Philippines as "deplorable" and a "breeding ground not only of diseases but also in shaping wrong values."

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