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Nearly 10,000 inmates freed as virus hits Philippine jails

/ 04:31 PM May 03, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — Nearly 10,000 prison inmates have been released in the Philippines as the country races to halt coronavirus infections in its overcrowded jails, a Supreme Court official said Saturday.

The move follows a directive to lower courts to release those awaiting trial in prison because they could not afford bail, Associate Supreme Court Justice Mario Victor Leonen told reporters.

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“The court is very much aware of the congested situation in our prisons,” Leonen told reporters as he announced the release of 9,731 inmates.

Covid-19 outbreaks have been reported at some of the country’s most overcrowded jails, affecting both inmates as well as corrections personnel.

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Social distancing is all but impossible in the country’s prison system, where cells are sometimes filled to five times their capacity due to inadequate infrastructure and a slow-moving and overburdened judicial system.

Overcrowding has become an even greater problem since President Rodrigo Duterte launched a drug crackdown in 2016 that has seen thousands sent to prison.

Among those which have reported outbreaks are the Quezon City Jail in the capital Manila, a facility so crowded that inmates take turns sleeping on staircases and open-air basketball courts.

The worst outbreaks so far are at two prisons in Cebu, where two city jails have announced a combined 348 infections among more than 8,000 inmates as of Friday.

The outbreaks have fueled calls from rights groups for the early release of prisoners charged with non-violent offences as well as the sick and elderly.

The Philippines has reported nearly 9,000 coronavirus infections and 603 deaths.

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TAGS: Coronavirus, coronavirus outbreak, coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, Justice System, Marvic Leonen, Philippine jails, Philippines
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