BY ALEX P. VIDAL
NEWPORT BEACH, California – Which would you prefer, a pigsty-like jail in the Philippines or overcrowded prisons in California, the ones the Supreme Court described on May 23 as “so bad that they violate the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment?”
This choice may be crucial to authorities concerned as Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s proposed bill to create a Beverly Hills-style “pay-per-stay” program for affluent inmates convicted of nonviolent crimes coincided with the Higher Court’s 5-4 ruling here that ordered the California state to reduce its prison population by more than 30,000 inmates.
How can we make the prison system in Beverly Hills, California as model in the proposed new Philippine law when no less than the highest court in the United States has given the prison system here a failing mark and severe tongue-lashing to boot?
Under Santiago’s proposed bill, rich inmates will be allowed to be housed separately from other inmates, “provided that they pay hotel rates.”
Minimum security convicts found sentenced for nonviolent crimes should be allowed to finish their sentences under the “pay-to-stay” program, which is similar to the one implemented in Beverly Hills, California, according to the one-time presidential candidate from La Paz, Iloilo City.
She said in a statement: “We need to change existing laws, to separate maximum security from minimum security prisoners. Minimum security prisoners should be allowed to apply for a ‘pay-to-stay’ program, if they are willing to pay hotel rates.”
The lady senator stressed that under the American program, prisoners are allowed private cells, work release programs, Ipods, mobile phones, and computers. When an American is arrested for non-violent crime in any county or state, he can ask the judge for permission to complete the jail sentence in a “pay-to-stay” program.
Reports quoted Santiago saying her proposed law will not apply to his former political ally, Antonio Leviste, because he was convicted of the violent crime of homicide.
Santiago claimed that “the new law will disqualify any prisoner who has a history of violence, is a sex, drug, or arson registrant, or has a situation or condition that may endanger the health, safety, or welfare of the other ‘pay-to-stay’ inmates, or the jail staff.”
She said the proposed law should apply only to nonviolent crimes such as crimes against public interest, which include fraud, forgery, and falsification; crimes against public morals, including gambling and betting; and nonviolent crimes against property, such as theft and bouncing checks.
Santiago cited that the Beverly Hills jail in California has three different programs: straight time, weekenders, and the work furlough program.
Under the straight time program, the prisoner just stays in jail until he serves out his sentence.
Under the weekender program, the prisoner checks in on Saturday morning and checks out on Monday morning, until the sentence is served.
Under the work furlough program, professionals can go to work in the morning for eight hours, but have to be back in jail for the night.
‘SUFFERING AND DEATH’
Writing for the majority in a 5 to 4 verdict that broke along ideological lines, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy described a prison system that failed to deliver minimal care to prisoners with serious medical and mental problems and produced “needless suffering and death.”
The majority opinion included photographs of inmates crowded into open gymnasium-style rooms and what Justice Kennedy described as “telephone-booth-sized cages without toilets” used to house suicidal inmates.
It was reported that suicide rates in California’s prisons, have been 80 percent higher than the average for inmates nationwide. A lower court in the case said it was “an uncontested fact” that “an inmate in one of California’s prisons needlessly dies every six or seven days due to constitutional deficiencies.”