Freedom and Death inside the Jail: a participatory Research among members of the Quezon City Jail Community


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Freedom and Death inside the Jail:

A Participatory Research among members of the Quezon City Jail Community

Researcher Raymund E. Narag

The Quezon City Jail

(Data as of October 13, 2003)

Population 3200 inmates

Ideal Jail Capacity 700 inmates Congestion rate 457%

Personnel 135 jail guards

Custodial strength 25 jail guards

Ideal custodial ratio 1:7

Present custodial ratio 1:128

Escort strength 35 jail guards

Ideal escort ratio 1+1: 1

Present Escort Ratio 1:10 +

Ideal Paralegal Ratio 1:500 Present Paralegal Ratio 1:700

Food budget/ day/ inmate P40.00

Medicine budget/ year/ inmate P56.00

Ideal doctor to jail ratio 1: 1

Present doctor to jail ratio 1: 3

Ideal psychiatrist to jail ratio 1: 1

Present psychiatrist to jail ratio 1: 8

Number of inmates who die

every month due to illnesses 5 inmates


What happens after the curtain has fallen? What is it in there when the doors are closed? What occurs now to a person when he is behind bars?

What is the reality inside our jails?

Ordinary people would picture a jail that is harsh—it is overcrowded, smelly, scantily lighted, and poorly ventilated. Violent men with tattoos drawn all over their bodies, as graphically shown in the movies, would be the common characterizations. The ordinary people would view jails as hotbed of gang wars where there would be bloodshed in the drop of a finger.1

As such, when one is committed to the jail, there is fear in his heart: will he be tortured by the jail guards and raped by the resident inmates? Will they get his things? Will his visitors be molested? Will he be tattooed in the different parts of his body? If he fights back, what will happen? Will the common portrayals about jails, as peddled by the police in the detention centers2 na bubusabusin kayo doon3 be true when he is transferred? For the uninitiated or bagito4 inmates, this is the fear of the unknown.5
This fear fortunately, however, has no basis. When one is committed in the city jail, his fellow inmates will accept him as a new member of the family. An inmate, who will be introduced to him as a kulturero,6 will ask if he had already eaten and give him food. Afterwards, a bastonero7, who will sound more authoritative, will orient him about the cell rules and regulations and he will be admonished about the dos and the don’ts. He will be told that as long as he follows the patakaran,8 no one will do him harm. And then the mayor9 of the cell, who will sound more civil and magnanimous, shall receive him like a father welcoming a long lost son. The sights of the bloodied and tattooed inmates and the siga who is massaged by a lowly inmate, alas, are nowhere to be found. They were instructed to stay away from the newly committed inmates. There are no bullies who will shout at him and take his things. To his astonishment, no one will hurt him.10

The over crowdedness in the cells, however, is true. He will be told that he is the 121st inmate in a 24 square meter cell.11 And if the inmate has no visitor, he will be informed that he has to sleep in a corner near the buyon or comfort room. The following day, he will be advised to wake up early for he and other buyoneros12 shall clean the plaza and the chapel area.

And then in a day or two, the inmate will realize, that the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology has not provided him with clothes and beddings. In fact, he will not be provided at all for the whole duration of his confinement.13 Also, he has to find a karancho14 in order to increase his food ration. He has to work for his fellow inmates in order to improve his lot. And he won’t be allowed to get out of the cells if he has no visitors. He will just have to sit in the corner, for there are limited recreation areas, wait for the day of his freedom, and be contented in every day’s occurrences. And the day-by-day concerns would be how to survive.
As such, he has to obey the rules in the cell and abide to what his fellow inmates say. He must know how to position himself amidst the struggle for the limited resources: of how to get more sleeping space, of how to be exempted from work, etc. He has to develop friends inside the cell so that he may have some company in the daily struggle. As such, he will be enticed to join the pangkat
15— they will give him protection.16
This will go on for months. There will be same routine and same people to talk to. And for others, even for stealing a pair of sleepers, they end up staying in jail for a year. And for the less fortunate ones, especially among those charged with non-bailable offense, they may end up staying in jail for three years or more.17

For this has been the reality: there is more violence than meets the eye. Forget about the jails being a place of daily riots and rapes, those are only for the imaginations of filmmakers who never set foot in the jail.18 It is incorrect manner of describing the jails. For the nature of violence in the jails is more psychological than physical, it is more structural than personal. As the jail maxim will catch it all, “Kung kailan magulo, doon tahimik, kung kailan tahimik doon mainit” or it is during periods of noise when it is peaceful and it is periods of calm when there are brewing conflicts, it is on the little movements that mean a lot of violence. 19

This is the environment an inmate has to endure—where the strong rule and the weak are put in the sidelines. In this community, what takes place? What happens when the doors are closed?
The Philippine Penal System
The avowed purpose of the Philippine Penal System is to rehabilitate and reform the offenders for their eventual reintegration to the mainstream of the society as responsible and law-abiding citizens.20 This is reflected by the vision and mission of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. As such, it further envisions the professionalization of the jail service.
Also, the Philippine Government is committed to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. As such, there are laws and policies that guide the Philippine penal officers on the humane treatment of inmates.
However, the Philippine penal system is the least prioritized of all government agencies. It is low budgeted and undermanned. As such, many of the reformation programs cannot be achieved. So despite the avowals to become rehabilitative, the hands of the penal administrators are tied.

The Research Paper
This paper shall look on the penal condition of our country. It shall look on how the jail community responded to their situations. It shall portray the responses of the members of the jail community in order to survive. It shall depict the way of life, the value systems, and dreams and aspirations of the persons who had been put in the sidelines.
This research focuses on the people living in the Quezon City Jail. The Quezon City Jail is the second biggest jail in Metro Manila in terms of population, next only to the Manila City Jail. The Quezon City Jail houses inmates who are undergoing trial at the different Regional and Metropolitan Trial Courts in Quezon City.

The inmates in the Quezon City Jail are still considered to be innocent. This is guaranteed by the Philippine Constitution of 1987, where inmates are presumed to be innocent unless found guilty by a competent court. As such, the subjects of this research are persons who are considered detainees. They are not called prisoners. Prisoners are those inmates who had been convicted by the courts and had been found guilty of the charges filed against them. Inmates in jail who had been convicted are, by law, transferred to the Muntinglupa National Penitentiary, if the conviction is more than three years and to the Metro Manila Rehabilitation Center (MMRC) or the Bicutan District Jail if found guilty of less than three years.

However, people would not make a distinction between a City Jail and the Muntinglupa Penitentiary.21 They would all presume that since they are behind bars anyway, all of them are already called prisoners. That is a misnomer.
The length of stay in inmates in the city jail is the culprit to this. Since, the inmates had stayed in jail for periods almost as equally long as the periods that the maximum imposable penalty are given them, then the inmates have by default served their sentence in the jail. As such, the jail served the role of a penal institution.

The research duration

This research was conducted for a period of seven months, that is, from April to November 2003. The first four months were used in generating data from the inmates, jail officers and volunteers and visitors. The next two months were used to gather secondary data. The last month was used for writing all the summaries of the Participatory Research Activities and integrating the Final Output.

However, there are data where the experiences of the inmates, jail officers, and volunteers may span a longer period of time. Many of the anecdotes that they are referring may have happened not only in the seven-month period. These experiences are incorporated, however, in order to show a historical and holistic understanding of the present situation.

Participatory Research Approach (PRA)

This research made use of the Participatory Research Approach (PRA) in generating data. The PRA is a family of approaches, methods, and behaviors that enables the inmates in the Quezon City Jail to express and analyze the realities of their lives and conditions. The PRA is a research method that assumes that it is the inmates themselves who know what their real conditions are. The PRA does not impose any pre-conceived notions by the researchers so as not to affect the outcome of the research. The PRA also enables the inmates of the Quezon City Jail to plan for themselves what rehabilitative and reformatory actions to take and for them to monitor and evaluate the results. As such it empowers them to articulate their dreams and aspirations.

Selection of Research Participants

In the PRA, the selection of participants is based on the nature of the information that the researcher intends to generate. For example, if the conditions of the inmates’ cases are described, the inmate paralegal coordinators are the ones selected to participate. Likewise, if the medical condition of the jail is evaluated, it is the inmates’ medical coordinators who will be elicited of their ideas. Later, this will be triangulated with another PRA activities among the Jail Bureau Paralegal officers and the Medical officers, respectively. Meaning, the selection of PRA participants is based on their knowledge of the nature of information at hand.

Methods of generating data

After the participants are selected, they are apprised of the research objectives and their role as key informants in the research. Then they are asked to introduced themselves with their fellow participants and describe their present conditions. Afterwards, they are grouped into five to seven members and are given specific questions to ponder upon. Each participant is given a writing material, and pentel and a manila paper to place their answers.

After writing their answers, the participants choose a leader from among themselves. The leader will be tasked to integrate all the answers that were given and to report their output in the bigger group. The members of the other groups validate the answers of the reporting group. They could accept, modify, reject, and change the answers of the reporting group. This process is an open exchange of ideas; until finally, they will all agree in a common answer.

Tools for generating data

There are different tools that are used in generating information. The most commonly used in this research is sharing. The participants share their feelings and ideas by writing or drawing it down. See example:


PRA activities with children of an inmate
In this PRA activity, five children, ages 12,11, 9, 8 and 7 of a former detainee, depict the conditions of their family when their father was still in jail. The drawing indicates that there are many people in the cell and that their father is located in the second floor. The oldest child also drew a woman who is selling vegetables and lugaw or porridge and described it to be their mother. Their mother happened to be a purchaser in the jail and as such, was allowed to stay in the jail. This PRA activity is a rich source of the daily struggles of families whose breadwinner was put in jail.

Another common tool that is employed in the PRA is listing and ranking. In here, the participants are asked to list down all the factors that could be the cause of their problems, for example, the reasons for the delay of their cases. There will be brainstorming that follows. Then the group leader will consolidate all the answers given, that is, the factors that are similar in nature are lumped together, those factors which appear to be unlikely to happen are removed. Afterwards, the participants will rank which among the stated factors are the most prevalent or widely accepted. They could also use other criteria to evaluate their answers. Again, there will be open debates on how many stars or asterisks (depending on the symbol that they used) in order to indicate their answers. See example:

PRA activities where participants listed the reasons for the delay of cases and ranked which of the reasons is the most prevalent.

In this PRA activity, the participants listed all the possible reasons for delay of cases and ranked the reasons. It appears that “matagal ang takbo ng mga hearing” or the setting of hearings are set too far apart and “matagal ang promulgation” or the setting of the promulgation takes time are considered to the most prevalent reasons for the delay of cases. These reasons both garnered 10 stars.
Upon investigation of the answers given, the participants will agree that “walang arresting officer” or the arresting officer did not attend the hearing which got 5 stars, is a reason that is half as prevalent as the “settings are set too far apart,” which got 10 stars. Meaning, the quantities given could be compared to each other to give a fuller picture.
Other PRA tools that were used are pairwise ranking, mapping, semi-structure interviews, Venn diagram, and local taxonomy of the language used. These PRA tools are described in the specific PRA activities that will follow. (For a more complete discussion of the PRA tools, see ANNEX 1)
The most important ingredient in the PRA method is that the participants fully trust the researcher. It is necessary that the researcher establishes rapport among the inmates. This is especially true as most of the information divulged are sensitive. Given the socio-political structure in the jail where there is a strong conduct to keep their mounth shut (Ang rehas at bakal ay di nagsasalita) it takes a long term development of confidence and of consistent visitations before the inmates could finally open.

The Researcher as a key informer

The added factor for the researcher is that he himself had been an inmate for almost seven years. As such, he still personally knew most of the participants. Also, given his track record of service in the jail, having been the Mini-City Mayor, or President of the Inmate Association, the Kapitbisig 2000 Inc., the researcher still enjoys the trust and confidence of his former fellow inmates, jail officers and the volunteers.

Also, the researcher himself could be the key informer in the jail conditions for having seen and experienced the same. The loose ends of the research, the interconnection of the the inmates’ findings and the use of anecdotes is ably supplied by the researcher’s seven-year incarceration.

The objectives of this research in the Quezon City Jail are:

  1. To integrate quantitative researches done on the Criminal Justice

  2. System and to show how this qualitatively translates into the lives of person behind bars

  3. .

There are researches done in the criminal justice system, such as the Institutional Assessment of the Public Attorney’s Office, the National Survey of Inmates and the Institutional Assessment of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and Parole and Probation Office, and the Survey of the Private Practitioners to Monitor Access to Justice by the Disadvantage Sectors. These are quantitative researches whose richness of data is complemented by this qualitative research.22

2. T

  1. o describe how members of the jail community cope with their conditions, of what structures that evolved, of the way of life and culture that dominate jail life.

This research will start where most of the quantitative researches have ended. For example, previous researches have already concluded that a cell is overcrowded and there is lack of jail manpower. What is the common result of such situation? Most of the researches reveal that these translate to disparities and human rights violations. While this findings are basically true, the research do not detail how the disparities and the human rights violations happen.

This research fills in those gaps. It will answer the question why, despite the limitations in resources, manpower and programs, the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, based on the experiences of the QC Jail, does not collapse and still maintain to give its primary services. It will answer what kinds of trade off were given just to keep the system moving.
3. To describe the “unique jail management” that is at work.
Eventually, this research will describe the “unique jail management” that is at work. This is unique in a sense that given the conditions, the ideal jail management, as prescribed by the Manual, is not followed. What transpired is different from those envisioned in the Manual.
4. To formulate policy recommendations and action programs on penal management, judicial and police administration, NGO, and legislative interventions


This research will echo the voices of the inmates, jail officers, and volunteers in their quest for a better penal facility. As such the jail community’s solution to their problems are organized to come up with one holistic program for reformation. The proposal will be based on their present set up and upon the articulation of their conditions.

Significance of the study

The significance of this study is on the detailed analysis of the conditions inside the jails. Its richness is in the many anecdotes that capture the basic conditions of the stakeholders of the penal system.

The contribution of this research lie in the understanding of jail culture and how this has an impact to the many reform programs that is geared towards improving the jail system. For example, the inmates’ concept of paralegal should be understood so that efforts to decongest the jail will not benefit only those who have been very adept about the system.23
This research therefore would be significant in drafting a program for the jails that is attuned to the basic needs of the recipients. It will make the proponents more cautious so that their interventions would truly alleviate the conditions of the inmates.

Scope and limitations

This research is conducted in the Quezon City Jail. The experiences and conditions described herein are specific only to the Quezon City Jail. The richness of the dynamics of the leadership structure, the variety of language used and the development of the jail culture could be unique only to the Quezon City Jail.

As such, this research does not purport to be the overall representation of all the jails in the whole country. The police detention centers, the provincial jails and the prison system of the Bureau of Corrections, by their agency attachments, have their own set of guidelines. Even the other Jails under the BJMP, due to the nature of the facilities (some bigger, some smaller), the number of jail officers in relations to the inmate population and other factors, could still manifest a stark difference with the descriptions of the Quezon City Jail.
Also the participatory research relies on the perceptions of the participants on their conditions. For the participants, this is how they perceive the reality. It is definitely true based on their observations. What the participants say are recorded as is.

Compared to surveys, however, the PRA research method cannot make generalizations to the experiences of other inmates. The research output is specific only to the participants.

Also, this research method is not investigative in nature. As such, it will not dwell on certain issues that may turn potentially anomalous. It is for future researchers to dwell on those areas. These potential areas of profitable research will be mentioned, as it will be encountered.
Participatory Research Approach Results
There are a total of ten groups that were conducted PRA activities. The different groups were identified to give a specific picture of the conditions of the jail. There were PRA activities conducted among the inmates, the jail officers, the volunteers, and the visitors.
In every PRA activities, an Introduction of the situation was laid out in order to provide the context of the discussions. The data that were pertinent to the understanding of the PRA activities were incorporated.
The purposes of the PRA activities were also mentioned in order to guide the reader on what data the researcher would wish to generate among the participants. Also, the methods on how the data was arrived at were detailed. A discussion of the PRA activities, based on the participants sharing and comments, were included in order to give particulars on their answers.
The participants likewise were given the chance to air their proposed solutions to their problems. These proposals are context specific and minutely detailed. These proposals are aggregated and become the basis for the recommendations of this research.
Finally, a synthesis was provided with the aim of incorporating the facts generated from the PRA activities. The synthesis correlates the specific conditions of the participants at hand in the overall framework of the jail.
The following is the summary of the PRA activities conducted:

  1. PRA activities among jail officers

  2. PRA activities among cell and brigade members and officers
  3. PRA activities among members of the cells to determine the food conditions served to the inmates

  4. PRA activities among members of the cells to determine the sleeping conditions of the inmates

  5. PRA activities among inmate paralegal coordinators

  6. PRA activities among Learners of the Non-Formal Education

  7. PRA activities among inmate medical coordinators

  8. PRA activities among Members of the Livelihood Section

  9. PRA activities among members of the Pangkat

  10. PRA activities among jail volunteers

PRA activities with jail officers
There are 135 personnel in the Quezon City Jail. Ideally, if we follow the personnel to inmate ratio of the Bureau of Jail Manual that is 1:7,24 they must be guarding only 945 inmates. As of October 13, 2003 however, the population of the jail stood at 3200. The jail officers are guarding more than three times their capacity.
The escort officers for example are bringing in inmates to the court with one jail guard taking into his custody at least 14-16 inmates. Sometimes this could even be as high as 20 inmates. This is a far cry to the ideal ratio of one is to one plus one, with more escorts than inmates, especially during transit.
Coupled with this is the inadequacy of resources. The jail building capacity is only 700 inmates. However, as of October 13, 2003, it houses 3200 inmates and around 50 resident jail officers. There are cells that accommodate 120 inmates where it used to house only 30 inmates. Also, the building has dilapidated facilities and is escape prone. There are instances where some daring inmates sow the window grills of the buildings and jump off to freedom. The building simply does not have perimeter fences.

In addition, the Jail lacks basic equipment like handcuffs, buses and vans, and even handguns for the jail officers. The jail budget is also very limited such that it cannot sustain basic administrative operations and reformation programs.

This is made more difficult with the jail personnel’s lowly pay. The jail officers receive a monthly pay Php 6,100.00 for Jail Officer One (JOI) and an additional subsidy from the city government of Php 1,000.00 per month. This is only two thirds of what the Police Officer One (PO1) receive, which by the Salary Standardization Law, must be providing them with equal pay.
This is made most difficult by the low regards to jail officers. In the criminal justice system ladder, they are next to the lowest rung, second only after the inmates. The social hierarchy puts a higher prestige to police officers, lawyers, and judges.
This is despite the fact that it is in the jail officers’ big shoulders where the security of the society from criminal elements rests. They have to take into custody persons who may have been in conflict with the law and have to prepare these persons for their eventual reintegration as law abiding and responsible members of the society.
Purpose of the PRA activities:
The purpose of the PRA activities is threefold:

  1. To illustrate the functions of ordinary jail officers

    1. To describe the nature of their work

    2. To present the challenges faced by the jail officers

  2. To determine how the jail officers cope up with their situations

    1. How they go about their daily operations

    2. How they generate funds to finance the needs of their programs

    3. How they cope with the limited space facilities and equipment

    4. How they come up with additional manpower

  3. To illustrate the jail system of governance as a response to the basic limitations

    1. The emergence of a resultant punitive penal philosophy
    2. The systematic failure of reform programs

PRA activities Number 1

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