Bilibid blues

The Mabasa murder, by the way, once more exposed the secretive world that is the national penitentiary.

Screamingly bizarre is the revitalized grand-scale corruption at the New Bilibid Prison that one can safely claim Bilibid functions as a clandestine mini-government.

Really, Bilibid can’t be but an ongoing clandestine state since there exists a rakish inmate-run centralized commissary selling beer at a thousand pesos a can, phones, and WiFi in supposedly one of the country’s most strictly guarded places.

Or, for the fact, inmates can arrange contract killings like the murder of broadcaster Percival Mabasa allegedly on the orders of some prison officials.

The Mabasa murder, by the way, once more exposed the secretive world that is the national penitentiary.

Such is Bilibid’s mind-boggling endemic massive corruption such that reforming the massive prison complex is again fundamentally a national issue, even a national priority.

Unfortunately, reacting with renewed dread and anguish over Bilibid can end up short-lived. There’s a precedent.

In this case, it’s the 2014 Bilibid corruption drama involving the lavish lifestyles of several drug lords imprisoned at the maximum security compound.

Can we still vividly remember the luxury cells of drug lords which included Jacuzzis, strip bars, marble-tiled bathrooms, “shabu,” inflatable sex dolls, and a small concert stage complete with strobe lights and a disco ball?

Still, it is not only this country’s short-term memory lapses that get in the way of thoroughly reforming the national penitentiary.

There is also the issue any incentive for us to intervene is often hobbled by the fact we often see Bilibid and its problems as separate and apart from the rest of our communities.

Prison corruption is plainly out of our sight, so unlike instances of daily corruption we encounter or witness in our lives.

With prison corruption largely hidden from public view, most of us know less about suspected corruptive behavior in prisons. Fewer of us are even less likely to know about bribing a prison official.
That is until news of prison corruption scandals erupt all over. Then we’re all eyes and ears.

Though prison corruption is a multi-faceted issue, in the end, prison corruption is usually about contraband smuggling and inappropriate reciprocal relationships between prison officials and inmates.

Prison experts say many measures can be done to address those two corrupt practices. Too long to detail here, however.

But they say the best antidotes aren’t only about stopping the impunity of prisoners but also about cracking the unique challenge of holding to account prison officials, particularly the protective secrecy surrounding their activities.

Nonetheless, focusing only on the effects of corruption in the sanctums of the prison itself is effectively useless if we don’t also consider the effects prison corruption has on society at large.

Prison reform advocates contend that prison corruption — especially if done on a grand scale — can undermine the deterrent effects of criminal punishment.

Here, wealthy criminals know that the most unappealing aspects of prison — isolation, lack of privacy, separation from loved ones — don’t exist if they can afford the hefty bribes.

This, in turn, tempts some potential criminals to view the expected high costs of criminal activity as minimal.

So much so that they will commit even more crimes to generate substantial revenues to sustain a comfortable prison lifestyle.

Moreover, prison corruption undoubtedly allows criminal kingpins to actively run their criminal networks from behind bars.

Prison, in short, becomes largely unusable in fighting crime.

With such a grim prospect, the government really does need to take immediate concerted actions like removing all cell phones, stopping the flow of drugs, the contract killings, and firing corrupt prison officials.

All these practical efforts, however, must end in some sort of robust anti-corruption unit in Bilibid if prison reforms are to be effective.

Government too has to draw up some sort of best practice guidelines to combat prison corruption on a national level, including detailed definitions of what is and is not prison corruption.

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