The minimum age for jail
Should persons of minor age, i.e., below 18, who commit crimes be put in jail? What is the minimum age at which a person can be assigned personal responsibility for a criminal act?
Public opinion about these issues was clarified this week (1/29/19), when the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) released findings from the Juvenile Justice section of its 2018 National Baseline Survey on Human Rights.
The survey was executed for CHR by Social Weather Stations in two stages: on July 13-16, 2018 in the National Capital Region, which was a pilot stage, and then on Dec. 18-22 in the rest of the Philippines. The total sample size was 1,500 adults, consisting of 300 in NCR and 1,200 in other areas (census weights were used to combine the area findings into national figures).
The survey asked about the following five crimes, presented in random order: snatched a cellphone, stole food, acted as a courier of drugs, raped a person, or killed someone. The crimes, specified by CHR, obviously range from petty to grievous. The drug-courier crime is mid-range in gravity, especially since a courier does not necessarily know the contents of what she/he is delivering.
For each crime, the Juvenile Justice questionnaire asked if the respondent agreed or disagreed that a minor should be jailed for it. It allowed for two degrees of agreement or disagreement, as well as a neutral or undecided answer.
Those that agreed were then asked the minimum age at which the minor could be jailed. Those that disagreed were then asked to choose their preference/s from a list of possible actions to take against the offender.
The national proportions that agreed to jailing the underage offender were: a clear majority (63 percent) for rape, a similar majority (59 percent) for killing someone, one-half (49 percent) for being a drug courier, only one-fourth (28 percent) for snatching a cellphone, and very few (8 percent) for stealing food.
Obviously, the more serious the crime, the greater the agreement to put the offender in jail. Yet there are significant numbers of Filipinos that definitely object to imprisonment, even for those that commit the more grievous crimes: 22 percent for rapists, 24 percent for killers, and 35 percent for drug couriers. Note that these objectors to jail are aside from the fence-sitters who gave neutral answers.
Those wanting youthful offenders imprisoned had a median recommended minimum age of 15, for all five crimes. A median is the point that divides the answers into two equal groups, when the answers are arranged according to the answered-age. Strictly speaking, the median applies to half of the 63 percent that want jail for youthful rapists, which means 31.5 percent of all Filipino adults.
The minimum 15-year-old age norm likewise applies to half of the 49 percent that want jail for youthful drug couriers. This means it applies to only 24.5 percent of all Filipino adults, including the one-half that don’t agree to any jail time at all for a youthful offender. It further means that lowering the legal minimum age norm to 12 years, as the Lower House seems to be doing, is against the opinions of three-fourths of the Filipino people.
Those that definitely disagreed with jail for minors were then asked to choose one or more of the following actions (given by CHR): putting the offender in Bahay Kalinga/Bahay Pag-asa, putting the offender under the Barangay Council for the Protection of Children, putting the offender under the custody of DSWD/LSWDO, returning the offender to his/her parents, talking to the offender and telling him/her not to do it again, and consulting a psychiatrist on what proper help to give. By far the most popular response, for any crime, was the turnover to the DSWD national or local office.
Contact [email protected]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.