PETALING JAYA: Some 11,000 non-violent minor offenders who were sentenced to less than one year should be released to reduce overcrowding in prisons and curb the spread of Covid-19, say parliamentarians and experts.
The All-Party Parliamentary
Group Malaysia for the Reform of All Places of Detention (APPGM) said the Prison Department had already identified prisoners for the Release on Licence (ROL) programme.The group notes that “managed early or conditional release” from prisons and detention centres is already provided for under Malaysian laws and no further amendment is needed for its immediate implementation.
“The early release of the identified 11,018 will be coupled with community reintegration to ensure adequate links and support for a continuum of care are provided, ” APPGM said in a statement yesterday.
The statement was endorsed by Dewan Rakyat Deputy Speaker Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, 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.
Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Mohd Zuki Ali had previously said overcrowding in prisons, which could accelerate Covid-19 infections, could be curbed with a special ordinance under the Emergency proclamation.
He noted that the security cluster under the Emergency Management Technical Committee could also suggest using any building 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 prison detainees and comply with the standard operating procedure.
The APPGM, which echoed Mohd Zuki’s concerns about overcrowding in prisons, however noted that more temporary detention centres could potentially make the problem much worse.
The group said such measures would be a “logistical and resource nightmare” as people who were transferred to the new facilities would 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, soap, and life-saving medications for patients with preexisting conditions even more thinly, along with limited human resources (such as trained health staff) – 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 it understood the need to improve movement control order compliance, it urged the government to reconsider the suggestion to impose long jail sentences for those who flout the SOP.
“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 on companies and businesses, and introducing community services for the offenders, ” said the group.
APPGM added: “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 on containment and mitigation within the Malaysian community at large.”