In Manila, new prisoners very rarely know their rights. Years of their lives are being determined by a system that they don’t fully understand. Because of this, the JusticeMakers in Manila make a point to hold an orientation once a month in each jail to inform new inmates about the penal system, their rights within it, and the help that the Paralegal Coordinators in the prisons can offer them.
I was recently able to follow Junard and Julius, two of the JusticeMakers here, to an orientation session in Mandaluyong City Jail in Manila. The information they presented at this meeting was very basic. The purpose was not to instruct the prisoners about their individual cases, but rather to teach them how the system works, and where they fit into it. The important thing for the inmates in these prisons is knowing what comes next, so that they can be prepared for it.
The impact of orientations like this can be powerful. Through the information provided, inmates are able to see their trial as a concrete system, with rules and regulation and clear procedure. In addition, they are introduced to the Paralegal Coordinators in the jail, who can provide advice for individual inmates on their upcoming case. This allows them to collaborate and prepare for upcoming hearings in an informed manner. Because of basic orientations and innovations like the Paralegal Coordinator, the JusticeMakers in Manila are building a system that is helping to decongest the prisons in Manila through information and inmate empowerment.