Editorial | Turning lives around

Back lit to hide her face, one of the students of the College Behind Bars in a video said the chance of earning a degree was heaven sent, one she could never have imagined to happen to her inside prison.

The hope that she could turn her life around once out of jail moves her and other students like her to do their best inside the school.
College Behind Bars, the only educational institution inside prison in the country, or maybe even in Asia, is a collaborative effort of the Social Entrepreneurship, Technology, and Business Institute, Inc. (SETBI), the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), and the University of Southeastern Philippines (USEP).
With the war on drugs pursued in earnest by government, population in jails has doubled, exacting a toll on the facilities and budget requirements of prisons. A facility that is built for 500 to 600 persons is now bursting at the seams with more than 2,000 inmates. And this is felt across the country.
While waiting for the exceedingly slow wheels of justice to grind, Aland Mizell, president of SETBI, said prisoners cannot just let their lives pass doing nothing each day. At the opening of the 1st International Conference on Inmates’ Transformative Education for Successful Re-entry, Mizell said detainees need education to make a successful re-entry into society, for them to have job skills once they go out of jail.
Without any form of livelihood, they are much more likely to end up right back behind bars, or worse, face death in a shoot-out with cops, as police reports show.
Ronald Rivera of the City Anti-Drug Abuse Council, who helps run the “Tara Na” community based rehabilitation program said substance use disorder (SUD) can be treated and rehabilitation is possible as long as there is a well-developed community support system which includes livelihood.
Drug addiction is a public health crisis and addiction is a disease that has to be treated.
The keynote speaker Dr. Bas Dreisinger, Academic Director of John Jay’s Prison-to-College Pipeline Program based in New York, provided a new lens in looking at the “punishment” framework, deconstructing what she said as the simple binary of victims and offenders. In her extensive studies of prisons in nine countries, she said there has to be some fundamental rethinking in the language that we use.
She said the situation in these countries is similar. Those who are in the margins, with no access to legal representation, those who are foot soldiers in the drug trade, or by reasons of gender and race, comprise the majority population in jails.
Education levels the playing field. As Dr. Dreisinger said, “You transform a person, you transform a family, you transform a nation.”

Posted in Opinion