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Sustaining Peace in A Congested Prison Requires Out of the Box Solution
By Venancio J. Tesoro, Penal Superintendent IV of the Bureau of Corrections
Published: 10/07/2013

Inmates a Textbook solution is good if we have an ideal or standard condition in penal camps. But when this ideal is breached, when standards could no longer be attained, the only solution could only be through the so called out of the box thinking.

I was conducting my rounds in the prison one evening when I noticed a group of inmates huddled in every corner of the dormitories. In my mind, this could spell some kind of an unusual congress. When I approached the milling crowd, I was gladdened that all of the inmates were all glued in one spot, focused and appreciating a commercial in front of a relatively large TV screen.

Suddenly I realized that without this technological medium, this group of inmates could have been discussing how to blow up the perimeter fence, how to hostage prison personnel, their own kind, their visitors and even prison volunteers. For those who are less aggressive, may have taken the floors as their target and may have concocted a way to dig a tunnel.

To be entertained could only be the solution to an overarching problem of congestion albeit temporarily though. It can halt any outward aggression. It can deaden the nerve for depression or depressive feats. It could also freeze any untoward event. Any situation that calls for entertainment for that matter solves any unfortunate situation that could lead to fatal ends.

Prison is a vast community where idleness is the order of the day. Should an inmate be compelled to work (and he can easily submit that he was coerced for doing so), you are already treading the deadly path towards violating the anti torture laws. Yet prisoners are judicially required to serve time as punishment. To serve time means to work, to be compelled to work and in the process, and after a prescribed period, to complete the sentence. But this should be conducted in a scientific, if not a methodical fashion.

Prisoners try to reinvent every instance to fill their days. They gamble a lot to forget their past. (Two cups of coffee on the table are enough to give a group an entertaining medium. Which of the two cups would a fruit fly try to land on. Bets are placed already on each cup and presto, a gambling table has materialized already. But this medium serves more violence than entertainment though.)

Prisoners abhor contemplation for fear that it might snatch their sanity in the long run. They pray a lot however whenever depression creeps in for heavenly intervention and in the process reinvents the deities for harmonious sleep. They try to entertain themselves through exchanges of notes and experiences, but flashbacks could only result in frustrations and blameworthy dispositions. They would rather move on than step back.

In Brazil, where facilities are packed with 5,000 inmates, there is always a daily occurrence of violence to be managed. Almost on a regular basis, officers were changed and administration reorganized because of the viciousness of compact living. Congestion could only lead to an explosive and fierce response from an inhumanely lumped humanity. Forget maltreatment, forget inhumane living condition, forget decency, integrity and respect, congestion is the only blasting cap needed to explode a prison facility.

That is 5,000 inmates in Latin American setting. In the National Penitentiary of the Philippines, this number is almost multiplied threefold (13,000 inmates to be exact) and there is relative peace and order obtaining down the ranks of the prison community. After a day of normal and peaceful situation, I would even attribute it to a miracle, although I would also point it to the pesky TV sets and other comfortable mattresses and electric fans that go with it.

Forget the textbook approach and rely more on out of the box solution if one intends to preserve sanity in an otherwise insane prison condition.

Reprinted with permission from philippineprisons.com

Other articles by Tesoro

Venancio J. Tesoro is presently Penal Superintendent IV of the Bureau of Corrections and has written several books on Criminal Justice Administration (specifically Corrections). He is also an academician, Criminology Board Reviewer, public speaker and a certified lecturer of Penology.


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