Senators support prison reform motion

by SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH / pic by BERNAMA

DEWAN Negara senators have expressed their support for prison reform mooted by president Tan Sri Rais Yatim to reduce crowding in local jails, as authorities consider ways to contain the spread of Covid-19 across prison facilities.

In a joint statement issued yesterday, the senators said the congestion has contributed to the spreading of the coronavirus among detainees, prison guards and their family members.

“Members of the Senate across political parties support the motion brought by the Dewan Negara president to overcome the congestion issue to ensure the safety, health and lives of families of prison staff and detainees are protected.

“The spread has become increasingly critical and it should be given attention by the government and community,” they said.

Statistics by the Malaysia Prisons Department showed that local prisons are currently handling over 40.33% or 18,719 detainees more than their intended overall capacity of 46,420 individuals. As of Nov 3, 2020, the number of prisoners in Malaysia stood at 65,139 individuals.

It is estimated that 25 out of 39 prisons in the country have been classified as overcrowded.

Outbreaks behind bars continue to pose a challenge for state governments, as many prisons suffer from overcrowding. Several prison clusters have since emerged across states including in Negri Sembilan, Kedah, Sabah, Penang and Selangor.

“This has caused the transmission of Covid-19 in prisons to be more severe as detainees and prison staff find it difficult to perform social distancing and the standard operating procedures.

“The transmission of the coronavirus in prison will also expose the families of prison staff to infection risk and it can spread widely to the surrounding community.

“The Senate sees the need for the authorities to take immediate actions in addressing the problem, including permitting licences under the Prisons Act 1955 to release prisoners who commit crimes without violence and are serving less than a year,” they said.

They added that the government needs to give assurance on the public’s safety, taking into account the decisions made in resolving the prison congestion issues.

“This is one of the functions of the Senate as a legislative body, which is looking for the best solution in improving the prison infrastructure.

“It also presents a new chapter to strengthen the role of the Senate as an institution who is willing to work with all parties from the government, stakeholders and non-profit organisations to address local issues,” they said.