Vienna, Austria, 22 May 2023 – Prison and penal reform has emerged as a critical priority for the Philippines. As of September 2022, the prison system continued to be severely overcrowded, running at over 300% of actual capacity. Such levels of prison overcrowding require urgent attention, as they pose severe challenges for safety, security and the humane treatment of prisoners as well as the effective administration of justice. Reform efforts to protect prisoners’ rights and their social reintegration prospects also benefit the safety of wider society.
The United Nations Minimum Standards for the Treatment of Prisoners – also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules – are the universally recognized blueprint for good prison management in the 21st century. They offer a powerful benchmark of minimum conditions and safeguards, thus offering the foundation for better prison management. The Vienna-based Group of Friends of the Nelson Mandela Rules is made up of 39 Member States and other entities, who commit to promoting the practical application of the Rules worldwide.
During its most recent meeting in the margins of the 32nd session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, the Group has welcomed the Philippines as its newest member. The Philippine Secretary of Justice, Jesus Crispin Remulla, reaffirmed the Philippine government’s commitment to creating a safe, secure, and more humane prison system in the country, and to incorporating the Nelson Mandela Rules into the country’s prison and penal system.
In his keynote presentation, Justice Secretary Remulla reported on the current administration’s programmes to address prison overcrowding and mitigate its harmful consequences. He highlighted on-going initiatives, such as the setting up of regional prison facilities, the provision of separate facilities for different categories of prisoners, the expansion of its early release programmes to ease overcrowding as well as an enhanced access to effective legal aid.
"We consider persons deprived of liberty not as numbers but as human beings with dignity and rights. It is our priority to make our prison facilities more humane and dignified. We will ensure that people are not deprived of their fundamental human rights while in detention," said Justice Secretary Remulla.
Remulla also highlighted other measures such as the roll-out of electronic single prisoner record system (carpeta), stronger investments in prison-based rehabilitation programmes as well as an inter-agency working group to investigate deaths in custody.
He mentioned that the Philippine government has been working actively with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to advocate for and implement strategies to ensure the humane treatment of prisoners and promote their successful reintegration into society.
UNODC has been supporting efforts to decongest Philippine prisons and jails, including early release schemes giving priority to vulnerable groups, such as elderly prisoners and those with serious health problems. It has also provided technical assistant for bail reform, the modernization of probation as well as the management of violent extremist prisoners through new assessment tools and procedures.
In addition to the Group of Friends’ meeting, Remulla also delivered a keynote presentation on the country’s emerging criminal justice reforms and innovations during the UN Joint Programme for Human Rights in the Philippines side event at the 32nd Session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. He was joined by the Philippine delegation composed of Philippine Ambassador to Austria, Her Excellency Evangelina Lourdes Arroyo-Bernas, and the Department of Justice contingent, namely Undersecretary Jesse Hermogenes T. Andres, Undersecretary Jose R. Cadiz Jr., and State Prosecutor Hazel Decena-Valdez.
Find out more about UNODC's work on prison and penal reform