The Valenzuela City Jail (VCJ) has been hailed the best jail in the country and the first to earn human rights certification.
In a memorandum, the Program on Awards and Incentives for Service Excellence (PRAISE) Committee of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) named the VCJ as the City Jail of the Year. This is the first time the VCJ received the recognition.
The VCJ has also been recently certified by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to have met 46 of 53 Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners set by the United Nations.
The rules fall under the following criteria: registration of detainees, separation of detainees based on age, gender, and type of offense; personal hygiene; clothing and bedding, food, physical exercise, medical services, discipline and punishment, instruments of restraint, contact with the outside world, access to books, exercise of religion, notification of death illness, and transfer; removal of prisoners, institutional personnel’s competence and conduct, and inspection of jail facilities.
In the certificate, Commissioners Maria Victoria Cardona and Norberto Dela Cruz said, among other observations, “the [VCJ] officers do not use force in their relations with prisoners.”
Officers also do not use instruments of restraints, such as handcuffs and chains, as punishment on detainees, CHR attorney Sheena Usquisa-Binarao added in a report. When officers have to use handcuffs, it is only when detainees attend court hearings, Usquisa-Binarao said.
Usquisa-Binarao also said the jail does not punish detainees in any way, and does not have a solitary confinement facility.
The CHR report also commented on the accommodation of detainees in their dormitories.
At the time of the visit on June 6, 619 detainees were occupying the male dormitories. The dormitories, which are on the third, fourth, and fifth floors, have a total combined capacity of 1,500.
On the other hand, occupants of the female dormitories numbered 61, less than their maximum capacity of 80.
Usquisa-Binarao, however, noted that while the number of occupants is less than the maximum capacities of the dormitories, the jail still has to make sure that each detainee is given 4.7 meters of room space.
She also said the jail must provide each male detainee with his own bed. “In one cell at the fourth floor containing 93 inmates, there are only 24 triple deck beds; thus available beds are 72. Hence, 19 detainees share beds with their cellmates,” Usquisa-Binarao said.
In an interview, male dormitory warden Superintendent Amado Concepcion said he cannot assure the CHR that the VCJ can provide each male detainee his own bed soon. The number of detainees varies from time to time and is hard to predict, he said, adding that the additional beds might crowd the space inside the dormitories.
But female detainees have their own beds. A cell that houses 37 inmates, for instance, has 14 triple-deck beds that can serve 42.
Female dormitory warden Senior Inspector Editha Roallo- Balansay said the VCJ has a resident nurse, while a physician from the City Health Department regularly visits to do check-ups on detainees, including the pregnant.
Pregnant women, on court orders, are brought to hospitals for laboratory tests and ultrasound, Roallo-Balansay said. The resident nurse also provides them with vitamins.
Concepcion said an office is being converted into a library. He is tapping non-government organizations and private individuals for help in stocking up the library with books.
Besides the VCJ, three other jail units were also cited by the committee: the Balungao District Jail, District Jail of the Year; Siocon Municipal Jail, Municipal Jail of the Year; and Region 1, Region of the Year.
The awardees, the committee said, “have exhibited reliability, creativity, efficiency and effectiveness in carrying out the mission, vision, and objectives of the BJMP.”