DAVAO CITY — “The place looks very nice, it doesn’t feel like a jail at all,” Colin Davies, deputy representative of the United Nations Children’s Education Fund (Unicef), observed in a brief visit early this month to the Ray of Hope Village, the newest women’s facility of Ma-a city jail.

Landscaped and painted in bright pastels, the duplexes that make up the new women’s facility of the Ma-a city jail resemble a village that reminds inmates of home.

Aptly called the Ray of Hope Village because it seeks to give hope to women behind bars, the new facility features 10 duplexes, five of which are already finished; a multipurpose hall, a nursing room and other amenities for children and mothers sprawled over the 5,400 sq. meter area of what used to be an idle lot inside the jail compound.

Windows are made of steel grills, to keep the ambiance of a home, according to Jail Chief Insp. Ferdinand Pontillo, officer-in-charge of the Davao city jail.

Maa city jail new facility reminds women of their home village. (davaotoday.com photo by Barry Ohaylan)

He said building a village inside the jail is a concept of freeing inmates long before they are released.

“By making this a better place, the women may become better people in society. When they meet their children, they’ll be a lot happier and I hope that once they go out, they will not come back anymore,” Collins said.

In a recent city peace and order meeting, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said he will ensure that the facility will feature a room for nursing mothers and other amenities for children. “The law says, you cannot deprive a child below seven years old of a mother, so, even if the mothers are in prison, children should be provided with facilities when they visit,” he said.

Pontillo said the idea for the P6 million facility started way back in 1999 to 2000, when concerns over minors in jail had prompted the Unicef to launch a series of meetings and consultations with jail officials.

For years, Unicef has been pushing for a separate detention cell for minors but it was only after Republic Act 9044 or the Juvenile Justice Act that minors inside the city jail have been finally turned over to the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Now, that tiny seed of awareness for the rights of minors have been extended to include women.

Pontillo said the women’s facility, which is now being ran by a woman warden, houses over a hundred women inmates.

The facility will be completed in the upcoming Kadayawan festivities in August, said Antonio Binatero, project director of Gawad Kalinga, who has been taking care of the project’s building, architecture and design. He said that the women’s facility at the Davao city jail is the first jail facility built by Gawad Kalinga, a civic group known for its innovative housing projects for the poor in different parts of the country.

With the labor counterpart provided by the inmates of the city jail, donations of civic groups and institutions such as the NCCC Cares, the Zonta Club, DCWD and the city government itself make the building of the facility possible.

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