Life inside the Philippines' most overcrowded jail

In an unassuming Quezon City neighborhood, across from a municipal library and around the corner from a police station stands the local jail.

A short ride from Manila – depending on traffic – the jail isn’t an imposing building, or even a particularly large one. Its total floor area is a shade over 30,000 square feet.

More than 4,000 inmates – and counting – live cheek by jowl in what has to be one of the most densely populated corners of the Philippines.

It’s always been packed, guards say, but recently the number of inmates has spiked.

Critics say this overcrowding is a predictable effect of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs – a crackdown the pugnacious new leader promised in the campaign that propelled him into office.

Conditions inside are astounding. Every available space is crammed with yellow T-shirted humanity. The men here – and almost 60% are in for drug offenses – spend the days sitting, squatting and standing in the unrelenting, suffocating Manila heat.

Their numbers are climbing relentlessly. At the beginning of the year, a little under 3,600 were incarcerated.

In the seven weeks since Duterte took office and charged his No. 1 cop, Ronald Dela Rosa, with cleaning up the country, that number has risen to 4,053.

The Quezon City Jail was built in 1953, originally to house 800 people, according to the country’s Bureau of Jail Management and Penology standards. The United Nations says it should house no more than 278.

There are only 20 guards assigned to the mass of incarcerated men, some of whom have been living behind these walls for years without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom.

Dela Rosa earlier told CNN that the criminals in the jails and prisons would just have to squeeze in, gesturing by pulling in his shoulders and arms. Inmates are woken at 5 a.m. before undergoing a head count – no easy task when you have 4,000-plus men crammed into crumbling, ramshackle cells.

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