Written by philippines

Words by Claire Hernandez
Art by Alyssa Belena

“I find it very frustrating na wala kang ginagawa. Day in and day out, nasa loob ka lang, nakaupo ka lang.” Marco Toral shared his thoughts during the 7 years that he spent inside a prison. 

Imagine kids going to a school designed like a bunker: drab walls, bare concrete, metal bars everywhere. How can we expect children to learn and enjoy being in school in an environment that isn’t conducive to learning at all? Similarly, how can Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDLs) rehabilitate and improve their behavior if they live in a hostile environment?

According to the Section 2 of the Revised IRR of RA 10575 aka The Bureau of Corrections Act of 2013, “It is the policy of the State to promote the general welfare and safeguard the basic rights of every prisoner incarcerated in our national penitentiary by promoting and ensuring their reformation and social reintegration creating an environment conducive to rehabilitation and compliant with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners (UNSMRTP).”

However, according to the account of Marco Toral, a former inmate and former consultant for the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC), the prison he spent in is anything but conducive to rehabilitation. “I find it very frustrating na wala kang ginagawa. Day in and day out, nasa loob ka lang, nakaupo ka lang.” Marco Toral shared his thoughts during the 7 years that he spent inside a prison. 

Broken Windows Theory

Inhumane visual cues are one of the factors why people do unethical behavior. In 1982, James Q. Wilson and George Kelling, proposed the academic theory The Broken Windows theory. An environment that shows visible signs of disorder and misconduct encourages further misbehavior. 

Last January 2019, the New York Times reported that in the Manila City Jail, 518 inmates huddled inside a space meant for 170. Also, in 2016, the Human Rights Watch reported that aside from the overcrowding reports,

“…Many detention centers in the Philippines fail to meet the minimum United Nations standards for such facilities, including inadequate amounts of food, poor nutrition, and unsanitary conditions.”

With this visible lack of empathy for PDLs, it is not surprising that misbehavior and disease continue to manifest inside prisons, hastening the demise of inmates. On a report from CNN last October 2019, Ernesto Tamayo, the medical chief of New Bilibid Prison said that violence, disease, and overcrowding are the reasons why more than 5,000 inmates die annually. 

Aside from that, some inmates take their own life. A former consultant for the CPDRC, Marco Toral shared that suicides are mostly caused by delayed justices. “It’s about the frustration that they have especially when those who have cases… being heard in courts but they had already stayed like more than their [supposed sentences]. They were depressed already.” These inmates feel like there is no end in sight.

Human-Centered Jail

Considered as the most humane prison in the world, Halden Prison in Norway argues that the architecture of the prison doesn’t have to look like a punishment. While most prisons are intentionally designed to manifest hostility, Halden Prison design promotes humanity and camaraderie through its livelihood programs and the one-to-one ratio of rooms for inmates. One of the architects of Halden Prison, Gudrun Molden says, “It’s so important to have a human behavior towards people, so they are not so angry, but give them… give them dignity.” 

That being said, the poor design doesn’t equal joyful inmates. The people deprived of liberty had been deprived of something else as well— human rights. 

Prisons are built to rehabilitate—not to punish— people deprived of liberty. Hence, it should be built based on what humans should need for their reformation. Human-centered prisons, like Halden Prison, cost tons of money. But providing the rights the PDLs deserve is not expensive, it must be the standard. 

Dominique Cruz, a licensed architect, stated that prisons should give human decency to inmates despite being incarcerated. “Kailangan hindi overcrowded yung cells, they should be able to fulfill all human needs for proper rest, eating, and recreation.” PDLs are humans as well. It is their right to have spaces where they can sleep and eat well. Also, recreation and livelihood programs are a must. These programs provide novelty in PDLs lives. It gives them something to do.

How can the public help

With unavailable spaces for recreation, lack of novelty, and activities to keep himself busy, Toral shared that what kept him going throughout those years was his mom. Also, his experiences gave him an idea of how he could help the inmates.

Visitations or “dalaw” is what PDLs look forward to. Marco Toral shared, “Before my time [as a consultant at the CPDRC], they did not allow the dalaw to happen. I saw the inmates… they can’t see their family. We agreed to write our governor that allows us to have a dalaw for the inmates. And it happened. All the inmates were really happy.” 

Human interactions are a must for people who spent a great amount of time isolated from the world. According to a study conducted among 400 randomly selected inmates in the US, inmates who often received visitations exhibited lesser depressive symptoms than inmates who received none.

The general public can help improve the conditions of PDLs by visiting them (within the confines of good security). From the perspective of an architect, Ar. Dominique Cruz writes, “…The public can help inmates that are still serving their sentence by visiting sa totoo lang kasi baka kulang sila sa new human interactions or fellowship. Kasi di mo naman gustong mabaliw sa isolation yung inmates.“

When the pandemic is over, Toral encourages the public to support the activities and performances prepared by inmates. Toral says that the people who came to watch the performance gave the Cebu Dancing Inmates of CPDRC a “good attitude”.

Another way to help is to educate ourselves on how we can improve the lives of PDLs inside prisons. JP Macatdon, an architecture student explains how the community has a pivotal role in the design of prisons. “The community kase plays a crucial role in architecture. They make the place eh. Without them, architecture is useless. So ayun, making them involved in this kind of programs would really help sa promotion of human-centered design for prisons.”

At the end of the day, it is all about asking why we built prisons in the first place—confining people in hostile environments until they have served their sentences or rehabilitating and influencing them to improve their lives. We might not be directly affected, but we are still indirectly affected by it. These people are citizens of this nation. How we treat one is how we treat all. 


Claire lives in Rizal, Philippines, and is currently a sophomore Architecture student at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. She is a Manila ambassador for one of the programs of Makesense, Youth 4 Sustainable Cities. Currently, she focuses on curating content for EmpathyInDesign, a blog that curates content about things and places that empathizes with people.

Ali is currently a communications intern at makesense who considers both Nueva Ecija and Metro Manila her home. If she’s not up in the mountains, you’ll catch her reading a book, playing with her dogs, or just looking up for new recipes to bake.