Rights group urges selective release of inmates amid COVID-19 incidents in jails
MANILA, Philippines – An international human rights group has insisted that low-level and non-violent offenders should be released amid reports that inmates and jail officers have been infected with the latest coronavirus strain.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said this on Friday, after the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) announced that nine persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) and nine other personnel inside the Quezon City Jail tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.
“Finding that the coronavirus has infected 18 inmates and personnel at the Quezon City Jail shows why it’s so critical the government actively pursues early release of detainees charged with low-level, nonviolent offenses, as well as the sick and older inmates,” HRW Deputy Director for Asia Phil Robertson said in a statement.
“The government needs to act urgently to mitigate what could be a catastrophe inside the country’s overcrowded prisons before it’s too late,” he added.
Earlier, BJMP spokesperson Chief Inspector Xavier Solda said that they are now doing contact tracing to determine other persons who may have been in direct contact with the patients.
He also said that the inmates who tested positive are among the 21 PDLs initially isolated for showing COVID-19 symptoms.
“Now we are doing extensive contact tracing. We have a team assigned to it,” Solda said.
The Quezon City Jail is one of the most congested jail facilities in the country. Recently, BJMP admitted that the death of one PDL may have been due to COVID-19 despite facilities being lockdown, preventing the physical visitation of inmates’ relatives to avoid possible transmission of the virus.
Various sectors – from lawmakers to the Commission on Human Rights and other rights groups – have called for the temporary release of inmates as overcrowded facilities appear to be a recipe for a COVID-19 outbreak.
On Wednesday, the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) asked Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta to convene a committee that would tackle possible remedies to the jail situation.
The number of COVID-19 patients in the Philippines is still increasing, now at 5,878 COVID-19 cases — 387 of which have died while at least 487 recovered from the disease.
Worldwide, over 2.15 million individuals have been infected, while 145,054 have died from the disease and 537,663 have recovered from it.
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