Parliamentarians: Govt should grant early, conditional release to prisoners with minor offences to curb Covid-19 spread

PETALING JAYA: The government should grant “managed early or conditional release” from prisons and detention centres to reduce overcrowding and curb the spread of Covid-19, says a group of parliamentarians and experts.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia for the Reform of All Places of Detention (APPGM) said the Prisons Department has already initiated the process by identifying some 11,018 people in prisons with non-violent minor offences who are sentenced to less than one year for the Release on License (ROL) programme.

The group said this is already provided for within Malaysia's laws and no further amendment was needed for immediate implementation.

“The early release of the identified 11,018 will be coupled with community reintegration to ensure adequate linkage and support for a continuum of care upon release, ” the APPGM said in a statement on Monday (Jan 25).

The statement was endorsed by Dewan Rakyat Deputy Speaker Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said (Umno-Penerangan), Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim (PBB-Batang Lupar), Nurul Izzah Anwar (PH-Permatang Pauh), Datuk Mohd Azis Jamman (Warisan-Sepanggar), Senator Datuk Seri Vell Paari, Senator Liew Chin Tong, Prof Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman from Universiti Malaya, and advocate and solicitor Sangeet Kaur Deo.

The group said this in reference to the statement by Chief Secretary of the Government Tan Sri Mohd Zuki Ali, who said that overcrowding in prisons that can cause the spread in Covid-19 infections could be curbed with a special ordinance under the Emergency proclamation.

He was reported as saying that the security cluster under the Emergency Management Technical Committee can put forward a suggestion of borrowing any building to be used as a temporary depot.

Mohd Zuki said an ordinance would enable the government to move the inmates to a temporary depot to reduce the number of detainees in prison and comply with the standard operating procedures (SOPs).

The APPGM said it echoed Mohd Zulu’s concerns in the harm of overcrowded prisons. However, opening up more prisons or temporary places of detention can potentially make the problem much worse.

The group said such measures will be a “logistical and resource nightmare” as people who are transferred to the new facilities will need to be screened and isolated before being allowed to interact with people from other prisons.

“More critically, however, the opening of additional places of detention will spread limited supplies such as basic personal protective equipment, hand sanitisers, soaps, and life-saving medications for patients with pre-existing conditions, along with limited human resources (such as trained health staff) even more thinly - burdening the already overwhelmed health system.

“Therefore, creating more prisons and temporary places of detention can create more Covid-19 outbreaks, the very evil we are so desperately trying to contain, ” said APPGM.

The group said while they also understand the need to improve MCO compliances, they urged the government to reconsider the suggestion to impose long jail term sentences for those who flout MCO SOPs.

The implementation of this approach will only aggravate the overcrowding in prisons, and further contribute to the bottlenecks of the release of people in prisons qualified for ROL.

“Further, we would like to urge the government to explore alternative penalties for MCO violations.

“This could include increasing fines towards companies and businesses, and introducing community services for the offenders, ” said the group.

APPGM said the nation is at a critical juncture in its battle against the pandemic, hence evidence-based actions should be taken or risk jeopardising the billions of ringgit invested towards containment and mitigation within the Malaysian community at large.

The prisons department must be given the necessary support from the government to be able to implement the proposed early release and contain the spread of Covid-19 in detention places urgently, said the group.

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