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National Correctional Consciousness Week

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In 1995, then-President Fidel V. Ramos, popularly known as the “can-do” Chief Executive of our country, issued Proclamation 551, declaring the last week of October as National Correctional Consciousness Week. It is currently Consciousness Week. As such, it is worth recalling what the proclamation sought to accomplish.

First, Article II Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution states that, “The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect of human rights.” In line with the intention of the proclamation, inmates of national and local jails are human persons, too, and as such, they have rights that must be respected at all times.

Second, the Proclamation assented to what the Administrative Code of 1987 has long declared. Namely, that the goal of prison management should be the rehabilitation of offenders, and that it is necessary to continually create awareness for public participation in the resocialization and reintegration of prisoners, probationers and parolees into society as productive and law-abiding citizens.

This sets the tone for the kind of penal philosophy that the country must follow in dealing with inmates in national and local jails. The long-term goal of incarceration for offenses against society is always the rehabilitation of offenders and their eventual reintegration into mainstream society. It means that while offenders are in prison, they should be taught skills that they will need to be productive and able to cope with the stresses of interpersonal relationships when they rejoin society after they have served their term or are pardoned.

Third, the Proclamation talks about the inherent dignity of offenders that shall be the basis for us the citizenry to extend support, humanity, understanding and sympathy for their rehabilitation while confined or are under probation or parole. The proclamation adds that that same dignity shall also be the cornerstone for their social acceptance upon release.

Fourth, the Proclamation recognizes the vital role of those who work in penal institutions, both employees and volunteers, from outside and within, particularly in “safeguarding both adult and youth offenders” and transforming them into normal, responsible citizens “as their share in nation-building.” I read this to mean that it is by the individual and collective examples of these jail workers in the areas of mutual respect and humaneness that youthful offenders do not become more vicious or psychologically disturbed during their stay in jail, but instead become kinder and are taught of the impact of their actions on the welfare of their fellow people.

Religious workers are one of the best kinds of volunteers. They set up prayer and worship services inside prisons, and they teach inmates to pray and shed the kind of life that drove them to be disturbers of peace and good order, which chained them to wrongdoing.

These valuable workers are complemented by other types of volunteers who bring food, drinks, medicines, and school supplies like notebooks and ball pens that supplement meager prison food and add to what they could afford to buy in makeshift stores inside prison walls. Equally valuable are volunteers who teach technical skills relating to the repair of engines, the setup and repair of computing equipment, and related income-producing activities.

Lastly, the Proclamation calls on everybody, both in the private and public sectors, to continue “to rally behind efforts to heal social cleavages” and thus ensure a successful correctional system for the country. We should heed the call. Given the reality of the underfunding of prisons, both the inmates and the guards need our help.

Compassion, if I read the law correctly and I believe I did, is the underlying theme of the Proclamation. Therefore, during this last week of October, I call on everyone to take the first step in implementing this law, which is to just be aware of the realities in our prisons.

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