KLANG: The Ihsan Madani Prisoners' Release on Licence (OBB) programme by the Prisons Department has been lauded by NGOS as a timely move.
The programme, in conjunction with the Hari Raya Aidilfitri, will see the release of some 1,000 prisoners who will be returning home to their families.
Those who qualify must have been given a jail term of less than one year and have served at least a third of their sentence.
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Community services organisation Malaysian CARE says the initiative will address several issues.
"We see this as a good initiative as it helps reduce overcrowding in prisons, allows early integration and promotes family reconciliation," said its community development director Poh Siew Lin.
Discharged Prisoners Aid Society president Benny Bastian said those jailed for a year or less had committed petty crimes and could easily be rehabilitated.
“Keeping them in prison will only result in them picking up bad habits and getting influenced by hardcore criminals in the few months they are there.
“This OBB programme will create a path to remove these people from prison and away from negative influence," said Bastian.
He added he was also happy to note that one of the criteria for prisoners to qualify for release is for family, employers or NGOs to guarantee that they will have jobs and places to live.
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“This move is holistic because, instead of just releasing them, there is also an initiative to ensure they are in safe hands and will be kept busy," he said.
Social worker Stephen Raj John, who conducts outreach programmes for prisoners, said the OBB must also ideally be accorded to those who have been in jail for three to four years.
“It must be on the condition that they have attended all the courses and programmes provided in prison for them to improve themselves.
“They deserve a chance too," said John.
Former inmate Michael Rajalingam said he welcomed the move but hoped the government would also extend the OBB to prisoners who have served a bulk of their jail term as well as elderly prisoners who suffer from poor health.
“Take for instance those who have only a year or two left on a 20-year jail term.
"If they have a place to go and a job waiting for them, they should also be given a chance to be released under the OBB," said Michael who had been in and out of jail three times from 1983 to 1989.
Michael, who has his own transportation business now, said he had come across many elderly and ailing prisoners during his incarceration as well as during his outreach programmes.
He said they suffered due to poor health and needed regular medical intervention and admission to hospital.
To this, Malaysian CARE’s Poh said: “Yes, we agree to this and hope that this can happen.
“However, we believe the Prisons Department has its own protocol for selection and Malaysian CARE will be glad to support in what ways we can.”
When announcing the initiative on Tuesday (April 18), Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said the OBB would give Muslim prisoners an opportunity to celebrate Aidilfitri with their beloved families and allow non-Muslim inmates to strengthen family ties.