The Prisons Department began segregating prisoners in 2010 but, say experts, more can be done for better security and rehabilitation programmes.
THERE are about 39,000 inmates in Malaysian prisons currently, and they can be better segregated. So says criminologist Prof Dr P. Sundramoorthy of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM).
“If the resources were available, we should have three categories of prisons – minimum, medium and maximum – which is similar to what the US (United States) has.
“One purpose is for better security, and the other is for better targeted rehabilitation and treatment programmes,” he tells Sunday Star.
“For maximum security prisons, rehab and treatment is not a priority. The aim is to lock these hardcore criminals away from society because of the obvious threat they are to the population. Where applicable and in limited cases, and if resources are available, then perhaps rehab and treatment can still be provided for prisoners in this category,” he says.
He explains that the minimum security prison would be for non-serious and non-violent offenders such as a first time motorcycle thief or a shop-lifter. Medium security prison would be for those who commit slightly more serious offences such as stealing or breaking into premises, but where there is no violence involved.
“Maximum security prison would be for violent or repeat offenders… the hardcore criminals.”
Then there is the community-based correction programmes in lieu of sending an offender to prison, which Malaysia has recently started practising.
“The person could be placed under house arrest, subjected to electronic monitoring, fined, or made to do community service, attend a boot camp etc. This avoids sending him to prison, which might actually do worse for him,” Sundramoorthy adds.
According to the Malaysian Prisons Department website, Malaysia currently has 32 prisons, four rehabilitation centres, one protected custody centre, and three Henry Gurney schools.
The International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS) reports that Malaysia currently has 39,144 remand and convicted prisoners (as of June this year), with a prison population rate of 132 inmates per 100,000 national population (Refer to chart.) These figures do not include juvenile detainees in the Henry Gurney schools.
“Ideally, the best would be for total segregation so that petty criminals are not exposed to, and learn from, hardcore criminals,” says Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat, who agrees with the proposal.
“Through segregation, we can also minimise the likelihood of a prisoner committing a more serious crime when he is released.
“Every criminal has his own way of committing a crime. We can control to reduce the transference of knowledge and skills across the different types of crime, but it’s harder to control transference within the specific type of crime, for instance, robbery and house break-ins,” she explains.
Interestingly, Prisons Department commissioner general Datuk Seri Zulkifli Omar says categorisation of prisoners has already come into effect since 2010, following the Government Transformation Programme, under the National Key Results Area (NKRA) on reducing crime.
“For security purposes, we have maximum, medium and minimum security prisons. There are 12 prisons categorised under maximum security, 13 prisons under medium and 14 prisons under minimum security.
“Kajang Prison, for example, is a maximum security prison, while the Ayer Keroh prison where we house the pre-release prisoners, is classified as a minimum security prison,” he explains.
He adds that prisoners are also housed according to zones – north, central, south, east, Sabah and Sarawak – based on where they are from, to make it easier for their families to visit them.
Zulkifli says there are also specific prisons for first-time drug users, hardcore drug users, sex offenders, young offenders, and prisoners on remand.
Some prisoners, such as those on death row or prisoners who are HIV positive, are segregated further for safety and security reasons. Women prisoners are only housed in the women prisons.
However, a further probe found that despite the categorisation of prisons, what is currently practised is that prisoners who have committed different crimes are still placed within the same prison facility, but segregated in different wings, sections or floors.
“If there is more than one category in one facility, we segregate them by putting them in different buildings or different wings, according to the space we have, to make sure they don’t mix,” Zulkifli says.
Dr Geshina, who was involved in the prisoner segregation procedure and who is in the Malaysian Department of Prisoners NKRA review, explains.
“The cost to build a new prison building alone is between RM15mil and RM25mil. That does not include the maintenance. What about human resources? You’re not going to get a sudden influx of people queuing up to be prison wardens.
“All these are factors, and we have to work with what we have,” she says, adding that although absolute segregation would be ideal, it would mean that some prison facilities might be under-utilised.
According to Zulkifli, the Prisons Department received an allocation of RM703mil in 2012, with an additional RM5.3mil (under the NKRA) for rehabilitation modules.
This year, it received a RM684mil allocation, with an additional RM8mil (under the NKRA).
Based on this budget, Zulkifli says the current cost of maintaining a prisoner is RM35 per day (about RM12,775 per year). This includes cost of electricity, water, food, medical care, clothes (prison uniform) and daily expenses.
“The cost of food alone is an average of RM7.50 per prisoner per day. Each prisoner gets five meals a day. Our diet is a balanced one that has been approved by the Health Ministry,” he says.
Compare this to the US where US$74bil (RM245bil) was spent on corrections in 2007. With about 2.4 million inmates that year, the cost of maintaining each inmate came up to about US$30,600 (RM101,492) per year.
In Scotland, the annual cost of housing a single prisoner ranges from £31,000 (RM160,000) to £40,000 (RM206,000).
In Canada, the annual average of keeping an inmate in incarcerated is about CAD113,974 (RM360,709), amounting to about CAD312 (RM987) per prisoner, per day.
In Singapore, the average cost of incarceration is S$75 (RM194) per prisoner per day. (Figures provided by Sundramoorthy.)
This is precisely Sundramoorthy’s point.
“My contention is that we should have resources available to build the various types of prisons to deal with the different offences. We do not have the luxury of spending millions and billions in treatment and rehab, which is why you need a targeted approach,” he says.
Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam supports the suggestion for better segregation.
“Suhakam welcomes the proposed segregation of prisoners which is in line with Rules 67 and 68 of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners that specify the need for the classification of prisoners and the separation of different classes to minimise any possible bad influence of prisoners with bad criminal records upon other prisoners, as well as to facilitate their treatment with a view to their social rehabilitation.
“Given the importance of rehabilitation, it is imperative for the relevant authority to ensure that rehabilitation programmes are designed and implemented according to the seriousness of the offence or crime committed in determining the necessities of the latter’s treatment,” he says via email.
Besides better segregation, he also raises several other concerns, including overcrowding, proper hygiene facilities and better quality of food and healthcare.
“Some prisons such as Taiping Prison and Alor Setar Prison are not equipped with proper toilet facilities, resulting in detainees being forced to use buckets to fulfil their call of nature. We have, in the past, recommended sanitary toilet facilities.
“As for overcrowding, it has been reduced due to the opening of a few new prisons – Machang in Kelantan, Bentong in Pahang and Sg Udang in Malacca. The introduction of parole system has also reduced this problem but there are some prisons which are still overcrowded,” Hasmy says.
Dr Geshina acknowledges this problem. “With overcrowding, you have problems in feeding, crowd control, disease control and daily maintenance. It can also pose a health hazard to the well-being of warders, especially in tuberculosis and HIV isolated blocks.
“Overcrowding (in prisons) is a global concern. It is a problem, but it is not so serious in Malaysia,” she says.
As of June 2009, says Dr Geshina, the occupancy rate in Malaysian prisons was 116%. For the same year, Haiti had a 335% occupancy rate, Sudan 255%, Bangladesh 214%, Indonesia 148%, and France 118%.
What can be done to improve the situation?
“More funds to help the prison authorities better manage prisons, better research focus (beyond prevalence rates, we need correlational studies) and improved rehabilitation programmes based on evidence-based practices.”