The Department of Health (DOH) has committed an initial 10,000 COVID-19 test kits for inmates as authorities look to start mass testing in prisons where infections have been recorded, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said Thursday.
The first batch of mass testing will be conducted at the Correctional Institution for Women (CIW) in Mandaluyong City and the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City, Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said.
Nineteen inmates and one staff member at the CIW and one inmate at the NBP have tested positive for COVID-19.
The Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) has augmented the medical workforce in its penal farms and colonies and has set up a 300-bed quarantine area at the NBP.
The Muntinlupa government has opposed the transfer of the COVID-19 patients from Mandaluyong to the Bilibid facility, saying they were not informed of the move.
Perete said BuCor officials tried to inform the local government of the plan but the “relevant local official could not be reached.” Appealing for understanding, he assured the city government and the residents that they took all precautions in the move.
“More importantly, the quarantine facility within the NBP was constructed in accordance with WHO (World Health Organization) and DOH standards, and its management will comply with stringent health protocols,” the official said in a message to reporters.
“We are coordinating with the DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) for the construction of a bigger quarantine area just in case there is a need for it,” he said.
He also said they the police and the military are on standby in case BuCor security personnel need augmentation.
According to January 2020 figures, the NBP has a population of 29,173 inmates, well over the capacity of 6,435. It has a congestion rate of 353%. The CIW has 3,422 inmates in a facility built for 1,008, resulting in a congestion rate of 240%.
The BuCor has five other facilities nationwide. The total population of inmates is 49,584, the congestion rate 314%.
Several groups have cited extreme overcrowding and poor conditions in prisons and jails in calling for the release of eligible prisoners and detainees.
The DOJ has relaxed rules on applications for parole and executive clemency. The Supreme Court has told lower courts to release qualified pre-trial detainees under certain conditions.
The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology has also reported several COVID-19 cases among detainees awaiting or undergoing trial. — RSJ, GMA News