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Monday, September 16, 2019

Editorial: Vulnerable prisons

IN 2010, the Washington Times posted an article on the problem of “drugs inside prison walls.” It was not about the Philippines’ National Bilibid Prison or the Cebu City Jail or the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC). Neither was it about inmates directing the illegal drug trade in the not-so-comfortable setting that is their jail cell.

Rather, it was about some state prisons in the United States where marijuana, heroin and other illegal drugs are smuggled inside and sold to the inmates. “In many large prison systems,” the article noted, “a mix of inmate ingenuity, complicit visitors and corrupt staff has kept the level of inmate drug abuse constant over the past decade despite concerted efforts to reduce it.”

Reading the article, one can find some parallels between what is happening in US prisons and those in the Philippines, although, because of the kind of prisons we have (overcrowded, under-funded), our problem is worse. US authorities are “merely” struggling to contain the smuggling of drugs inside the prisons while their counterparts in the Philippines are battling both the smuggling of drugs inside the prisons and inmates selling them to users outside.

This was what the previously confident Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre found out recently when he grudgingly admitted that the illegal drugs trade is flourishing again inside the Bilibid and in other prisons in the country. A raid at the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC) the other day resulted in the seizure of P236,000 worth of shabu.

“The imagination and creativity of people under lock and key boggles the mind,” said Dr. H. Westley Clark, director of the US Federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Brian Lowry, president of a union group representing many federal prison officers, added: “We have a lot of manipulative inmates—they didn’t get there by going to church on Sunday, and some of them have money.”

But recognizing the ability of inmates to manipulate the prison system to serve the ends of the illegal drug trade is one thing. Coming up with ways to curb the trade is another. In the end, it is the honesty, determination and creativity of prisons officials that would spell the difference between failure and success in this effort.
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