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Senator Santiago: Let rich prisoners pay hotel rates

MANILA, Philippines—Why not let the government make money from wealthy convicts?

Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago on Tuesday broached the idea of allowing moneyed inmates of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City to officially pay for better accommodations that would allow them to use iPads and laptops, or even get a day job outside the discomforts of jail.

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Santiago admitted that her proposed “pay to stay” program—borrowed from a similar practice in the United States—would further highlight the social divide even in prison where inmates were supposed to be treated equally.

“Yes, of course, there is injustice here,” she told the Inquirer. “But what can we do? We’re dealing with the real world here.”

The senator said that as things stood, wealthy inmates were using their money and influence to improve their conditions in jail. What was considered an open secret was again brought to public notice by the arrest last week of former Batangas Gov. Antonio Leviste in Makati City.

Leviste, convicted of killing his longtime aide and sentenced to 6-12 years in jail, was found to have left the NBP without a permit.

Regulate it

Santiago described the NBP as “completely miserable, overcrowded, stinky, filthy,” with gangs that were “likely to rape newcomers.”

“Naturally, anyone who can afford it will pay under the table for the so-called privilege of living out,” she said. “If … we cannot prohibit or prevent it, then let us regulate it. Let us make money from these rich people.”

Under Santiago’s proposal, minimum-security prisoners may stay in the comfort of private cells by paying “hotel rates.” (Because inmates convicted of violent crimes will not be qualified, the program will not benefit Leviste.)

“The new law will disqualify any prisoner who has a history of violence, is a sex, drug, or arson registrant, or has a situation or condition that may endanger the health, safety, or welfare of the other ‘pay to stay’ inmates, or the jail staff,” Santiago said in a statement.

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In the United States, the “pay to stay” program is available in several cities in California and is being considered in New York and Massachusetts, she said.

The Beverly Hills jail in California, for example, offers three programs—“straight time, weekenders and work furlough”—for qualified inmates, the senator said.

“Under the weekender program, the prisoner checks in on Saturday morning and checks out on Monday morning, until the sentence is served,” she said.

“Under the work furlough program, professionals can go to work in the morning for eight hours, but have to be back in jail for the night.”

Rehabilitation

Santiago said her proposal was consistent with the penal objective of rehabilitating, and not just punishing, convicts.

She pointed out that in the United States, qualified inmates were allowed to use iPods, mobile phones and computers.

“You can have all these professional gizmos,” she said. “In that case, we would be able to rehabilitate the person.”

Santiago has asked the Department of Justice to come up with a study paper on her proposal.

She has also refused to join calls for Bureau of Corrections Director Ernesto Diokno to step down, saying that even with his resignation and the appointment of a replacement, “the subordinate officials will [just] continue this practice because the bribes are irresistible.”

Like Alcatraz

On the other hand, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri wants the Aquino administration to build a modern jail facility on an island, similar to the notorious Alcatraz in San Francisco in the United States.

“This is what I have been saying all along, that there are ongoing shenanigans inside our prison facilities especially in Muntinlupa, where the rich and influential prisoners have access to computer equipment, cell phones, the Internet and even limited freedom,” Zubiri said.

He said this situation had allowed syndicate leaders “to pursue their illegal trade within the confines of the prison cells.”

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TAGS: former Batangas Gov. Antonio Leviste, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Prison
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