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Move to strike jail terms for minor crimes lauded

MANILA (UCAN): The Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines welcomed the passage of a bill seeking to reduce prison overcrowding by imposing community service instead of jail terms for minor offenses. 
The bill was passed by the Senate on its third and final reading on June 3. 
The episcopal commission has for years been advocating the adoption of the measure as part of its campaign for “restorative justice.”
The commission’s executive secretary, Rodolfo Diamante, said the move is laudable because Church leaders have long been calling for alternatives to imprisonment.
“The United Nations (UN) has urged member countries since 1990 to consider non-custodial measures in the treatment of offenders,” Diamante said.
He said the UN’s so-called Tokyo Rules seeks alternatives to imprisonment like community service, work and study furlough.
Under the bill, a court may require a defendant to do community service, as long as the offense is minor. The defendant must also do community service in the area where the crime was committed.
Senator and chairperson of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Richard Gordon, said the proposal would give defendants “a chance to change, rehabilitate and reintegrate themselves into the community.”
Upon the completion of community service, the court shall then order the defendant’s release unless there is a need for detention for some other crime.
Gordon said the country’s prison overcrowding rate is at 436 per cent “making it the world’s second highest most overcrowded prison system in the world, next to Haiti.”
Bishop Joel Baylon, chairman of the prison pastoral care commission, earlier called on the government to treat prisoners humanely.
“They may be deprived of freedom, but jails should not deprive them of their basic human rights, among which is better living conditions in cells,” he said in an interview.
Diamante described conditions and facilities in jails and prisons across the Philippines as “deplorable” and a “breeding ground not only of diseases, but also in shaping wrong values.”

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