‘e-dalaw’ e-lates Quezon City ‘e-nmates’
The proud father laid his eyes on his newborn twins for the first time. It was a scene of pure joy, except that he’s at the Quezon City Jail (QCJ), where paralegal officers kept watch behind his back, and the babies appeared on the computer screen, their images streamed live via Skype.
Introducing “e-dalaw,” short for “electronic dalaw (visit).”
To keep inmates “virtually in touch” with their loved ones, the QCJ on Thursday opened an online chat facility that officials said would not only allay homesickness and depression among the detainees but also curb drug or weapons smuggling in the jail.
“Many of our inmates, maybe a third of our 3,000-plus population, do not receive regular visitors anymore. So we want to extend this to them to help assuage their loneliness,” said the jail warden, Supt. Joseph Vela.
Launched by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) in partnership with the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), the e-dalaw was piloted at the QCJ, which allotted a special WiFi-ready room for the project.
The OSG donated five computers, while the city jail administration pledged to shoulder the WiFi connection at P900 a month.
“Visitors’’ may access the service using a Skype account from a computer at home or an Internet cafe. They first have to send an e-mail at [email protected] naming the inmate they wish to chat with. A reply from the jail’s paralegal staff will then set the schedule of their online meeting.
However, they are allowed to chat only for five minutes—and their conversation will be monitored.
“This project will not only save lots of money on the part of families but will also address homesickness and boredom of inmates because they now have a chance to interact with their families.” said BJMP Director Rosendo Dial.
During e-dalaw’s initial run at QCJ Thursday, at least five inmates discovered the wonders of the technology.
In a phone interview, Vela said one of the inmates saw his newborn twins on the webcam for the first time, “barely able to contain his glee.”
“You could see it in his face. In the past, he could only see his family once a month. Now there’s the Internet for them to see each other more often,” the official said.
Vela said e-dalaw was conceived especially for inmates whose relatives live in remote provinces or abroad, most of whom could barely afford the trip to Quezon City. Priority will also be given to aging or sick inmates, he said.
“Our inmates are innocent until proven guilty, so we want to relieve their sadness by offering other means of keeping in touch,” Vela said.
“There are many stories that really moved us by bringing this project in partnership with the BJMP. We are happy that it is now being realized,” Assistant Solicitor General Karl Miranda added in a statement.
Vela expressed hopes that the city jail would acquire more computers for the project with additional funding from the BJMP.
But no privacy
QCJ inmates can enjoy the e-dalaw service Monday to Friday, from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, and from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
But the chat will be far from private: At least four members of the jail’s paralegal staff will be sitting behind the inmates and should be able to hear everything through speakers. The computers don’t come with headsets.
According to Vela, this is to ensure that “nothing illegal” would be discussed in the online chat.
“We also hope that, with the e-dalaw, we will be able to reduce cases of relatives smuggling contraband into the jail,” the warden added.
E-dalaw goes offline on weekends, during which “our manpower will be dedicated to visitors in the flesh,” he said.
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