A community-based drug rehabilitation treatment session for Persons Deprived of Liberty. Photo credit: URC

When the Philippine government declared a war against illegal drugs, drug-related arrests spiked. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency reported 220,728 arrests from July 2016 to November 2019. Prison congestion rose 612% and led to disease and deaths.

In 2017, the Supreme Court allowed those arrested for minor drug crimes to apply for plea bargaining. Those approved were allowed to receive community-based drug rehabilitation (CBDR) for six months in lieu of incarceration. Unfortunately, because the country had no history of CBDR, many local government units did not have CBDR programs in place.

Resilience, Health, and Care in the Community

The Bureau of Jail Management and Penology’s (BJMP’s) response to the lack of CBDR programs was to adopt a pre-release program so that plea bargainers could receive treatment prior to their release. In 2018, BJMP’s Directorate for Welfare and Development learned about the Katatagan, Kalusugan at Damayan ng Komunidad (Resilience Health, and Care in the Community) for Persons Deprived of Liberty (KKDK PDL) – those awaiting judgment or undergoing trial. The KKDK program was created by the Psychological Association of the Philippines in response to the need for evidence-informed treatment for persons who use drugs (PWUDs) enrolled in CBDR.

A study by USAID Expanding Access to Community-Based Drug Rehabilitation Program in the Philippines (USAID RenewHealth) revealed that 86% of PDLs are low- and moderate-risk users and can be successfully treated in the community. Drug use is not only an individual problem but is linked to family and community support. The KKDK modules include recovery skills, relapse management, stress management, emotion regulation, communication and interpersonal skills, and methods to improve family relationships.

The study found that those who underwent pre-release and post-release programs reported significant improvements in drug recovery and life skills, such as managing emotions, rebuilding relationships, planning for the future, etc., compared to those who did go through the program. In terms of substance use dependence (SUD) symptoms, those who received no treatment reported slight increases in SUD symptoms while those who participated in the programs reported slight decreases in SUD symptoms.

Bringing Hope to PDLs

Through the Directorate for Welfare and Development, BJMP sent personnel from jails nationwide for training in KKDK. BJMP psychiatrists and a senior jail officer pilot tested the KKDK PDL program at two sites. The programs were successful, and they obtained approval for the institutionalization of KKDK PDL as BJMP’s drug counseling program for plea bargainers.

Jail Officer 3 Daisy Fayawan, a BJMP welfare and development officer and a certified KKDK facilitator in Tarlac City Jail, talked about the value of daily reflections at treatment sessions with PDLs.

“In every module during our treatment sessions, we have a reflection of the day when we discuss what we have learned during the session. This is an important learning experience for substance users to realize that change is possible. PDLs who complete their treatment and graduate from the program have changed their perspective in life, and with family support after their release, can have a second chance.”

One challenge encountered was the limited number of BJMP personnel trained on KKDK PDL. In 2021, USAID RenewHealth trained 108 BJMP staff to facilitate the program and to ensure sustainability. In 2022, RenewHealth trained 19 BJMP facilitators as coaches and trainers to train other BJMP staff nationwide. BJMP aims to train more KKDK PDL facilitators across the country so that there is at least one facilitator per jail facility. By having sufficient personnel to conduct interventions, BJMP will provide PDLs with equal access to interventions in jails within its jurisdiction.

Jail Officer 2 Jason Luken, a certified KKDK coach and trainer, believes that his role is crucial to providing the needed treatment services to PDLs in BJMP facilities.

“At first, we experienced challenges in the implementation of the KKDK program because not everyone in BJMP believes that the program works. But today, there is a better appreciation from our wardens and other jail officials that the KKDK for PDLs program is effective.”

PWUDs Find Second Chances

The KKDK PDL program has proven transformative for participants. Tristan, 38, says he got involved with illegal drugs because his partner and friends were using drugs.

“The KKDK program helped me realize how I can rebuild family relationships, as well as my spiritual beliefs. I also want to influence other PDLs who are just starting their treatment sessions that change and recovery is possible.”

Beyond treatment, BJMP offers education and livelihood training. One of the beneficiaries is Rolly, 32, who has been detained for the past five years. Rolly has completed a college degree and was assigned to teach other PDLs. Under an alternative learning system – an education program usually for out-of-school youth – Rolly is helping other PDLs learn how to read, write, and perform simple arithmetic.

For Rolly, the experience has been instructive and fulfilling. Not only is he able to help other PWUDs, but he has realized the importance of hope and the chance to recover:

“The program gave me hope that someone like me who was a drug user can change and recover, live a decent life after release, one that is guided by family and the community.”