Castelo: Test low risk, vulnerable detainees before release

THE Supreme Court (SC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) were urged to have low risk and vulnerable detainees tested for coronavirus (COVID)-19 before they are released.

House Assistant Majority Leader and Quezon City Rep. Precious Castelo, a vice chairperson of the House committee on Metro Manila development, said the SC and the DOJ could request the Department of Health (DoH) to do the test.

“The government should determine if the prisoners to be released are coronavirus carriers or not. If they are and are sent home, they can spread the virus to their families and the community,” said Castelo.

Castelo said detainees should be immediately isolated and treated if they are found COVID-19 positive.

She said contact tracing should also be done to identify persons the detainees have interacted with so they could be quarantined.

The lady House leader made the appeal in the wake of reports that the SC is allowing the release of certain offenders, including those whose period of detention is equal to or has exceeded the prison term they would serve if they were convicted.

The High Court took the move apparently in response to appeals for it and the DoJ to free low-risk and vulnerable persons deprived of liberty to decongest jails and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in these detention facilities.

Last week, at least nine detainees at the Quezon City jail tested positive for COVID-19.

Castelo said she is supporting the recommendation of the House committee on justice to give temporary freedom to low-risk and vulnerable prisoners provided measures are taken so they won’t spread the virus if they have it.

They should be monitored for any manifestation of the disease so they can be promptly quarantined, she said.

In a report to Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, committee on justice chairman Rep. Vicente Veloso of Leyte said, “Given the extremely high transmissibility of COVID-19… the current condition of our congested jails is a recipe for a catastrophic disaster-in-waiting.”

“Aside from the obvious risk of an unabated spread of COVID-19 due to the cramped spaces and lack of facilities for isolated medical care, there is also a great risk of riots among inmates once infection begins, triggered by panic and a sense of helplessness given their dire situation,” he said.

Veloso said jail personnel are also at risk of infection.

“It is therefore imperative to decongest our jails, even temporarily, during this crisis in order to prevent or otherwise mitigate the spread of the disease therein,” Veloso stressed.