Locked-down Manila City Jail inmates connect with families through ‘e-Dalaw’
MANILA, Philippines — Persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) at the Manila City Jail now find themselves further cut off from the outside world as cases of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continue to rise, prompting the government to enforce a Luzon-wide lockdown.
With a ban on visitors enforced to prevent the spread of the virus inside the crowded facility, the city jail’s “e-Dalaw” system has become in great demand among inmates seeking a way to connect online with their families.
From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, around 500 PDLs from the facility’s north and south wings wait for their turn to use any of the 10 computers for 10 to 15 minutes to talk to their loved ones.
“We are doing this to boost the morale of our PDLs and lessen the loneliness they feel inside the facility. The temporary suspension of visiting privileges during the lockdown might trigger certain emotions especially since they treasure the visits very much,” Nelmar Malimata, the Manila City Jail public information officer, told the Inquirer.
Before the lockdown, the prisoners’ relatives were allowed to see them from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays, except Mondays, and between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on weekends.
According to Malimata, the city jail management has been ordered to strictly observe the absolute lockdown, so nobody is allowed to enter and leave the compound except for personnel delivering essential goods and garbage collectors.
However, social distancing, a crucial guideline that the Department of Health deemed the most effective way to contain the spread of the virus, has proven to be physically impossible inside Manila City Jail.
The facility has a 300-percent congestion rate, with 4,868 PDLs packed into a compound built for only 1,100 to 1,200 people.
“Since we cannot observe social distancing inside Manila City Jail, we instead formed a task force consisting of various teams that [carry out] precautionary measures in the facility, such as educational talks on hygiene and how to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Malimata said.
Medical and psychosocial teams also go around the dormitories to conduct temperature checks and remind PDLs that the temporary ban on visiting privileges was being enforced for their and their loved ones’ safety.
As of Monday, Malimata confirmed that the facility remained free of the virus and none of the inmates showed any symptoms.
Some had reported a mild fever that eventually subsided in the evening, he said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, a nongovernmental organization that pledged to help vulnerable communities in times of national emergencies, has offered assistance should an inmate be infected.
Despite their precautionary measures and medical aid, however, Malimata admitted that they lacked health care workers.
“Right now, we are trying to utilize our jail personnel with a background in medicine for our medical infirmary,” he said.
For now, he can only hope that the psychosocial and medical interventions they are enforcing will be enough to prevent the disease from invading the city jail.
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