by S BIRRUNTHA / pic by BERNAMA
A BIPARTISAN parliamentary group yesterday called for an immediate reform of prisons and other detention facilities, as it has become the breeding grounds for the spread of Covid-19.
The All Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia for the Reform of All Places of Detention (APPGM) said inmates have no real access to healthcare, neither can they implement standard operating procedures due to prison overcrowding.
“As clearly shown through the pandemic, prison health is public health and the two are undeniably interrelated. Ignoring the spread of Covid-19 within prison and detention centre walls will lead to the ongoing spread and spillover into the general community.
“Although personnel from the Prisons Department are trying their best, they need comprehensive evidence-based support,” the group said in a statement yesterday.
The statement was endorsed by members of the APPGM committee, including Deputy Dewan Rakyat Speaker and Pengerang MP Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said, Batang Lupar MP Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim, Senator Datuk Seri S Vell Paari, Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah, Sepanggar MP Datuk Mohd Azis Jammam, Senator Liew Chin Tong, lawyer Sangeet Kaur, and Messrs Amin Karlos.
APPGM pointed out that the spread of the virus within prison walls is like a death sentence to prisoners who have no way to protect themselves.
This also applies to prison staff, officers and their families.
The group also said the inmates are in desperate fear of their lives in prison as they feel completely exposed, vulnerable and helpless without the ability to defend themselves against Covid-19.
It added that in fact, most prisons have gone back into total lockdown in recent weeks due to the fierce spread of the virus within.
On Oct 7, 2020, the Prisons Department recognised the need to act when it said that 11,018 inmates as of Oct 5, who are sentenced to less than a year with less than three months left to serve, can be considered for release on licence.
“The release and community reintegration of the 11,018 individuals would be a great start towards reducing prison overcrowding.
“The Prisons Department must be given the necessary support from the government to be able to implement the proposed early release urgently. This will need to be guided by research and evidence, and involve all relevant stakeholders including the civil society to ensure it is done properly,” APPGM said.
The group also added that it is ready to be a part of the task force to specifically deal with matters relating to Covid-19 in prisons and detention centres.
“We look forward to working with the government to fight this battle together by standing united in our purpose and intent.
“The APPGM humbly appeals for an opportunity to engage and provide our technical input in an inclusive national Covid-19 task force,” it said.