KUALA LUMPUR: The rise in Covid-19 prison clusters is a manifestation of what was bound to happen, said Permatang Pauh MP, Nurul Izzah Anwar (pix).
She said the Covid-19 prison outbreaks highlights the dismal conditions and overcrowding that have long plagued our prisons.
“Reports indicate that even cases involving temporary remands are not segregated from other inmates, with physical distancing guidelines not adhered to.
“This is not by choice, but due to long standing systemic challenges such as under-funding and under-investment, and failure to make the cut as a prioritised government agenda.
“As a consequence, we are seeing the effects of our failure to meaningfully reform our prison system to international standards of protecting an individual’s right to health,” she said in a statement today.
She added that the call for prison reform is not new.
Many legislators and stakeholders have voiced the need to invest in our prisons in line with the Prison Department’s official charter of providing correctional machinery that ensures “safe custody”, “treatment that is fair, impartial and humane”, and the inclusion of an “integrated rehabilitation programme” for its inmates.
“Unfortunately, we have a long way to go to ensure the safety of those behind bars.
“According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, as of July 1, 2020, our prisons had a capacity of only 47,650 but held 60,983 inmates, in other words an excess of 13,000 prisoners.
“A majority of prisoners, an estimated two thirds, are in for drug offences. For inmates, incarceration in such overcrowded conditions coupled with inadequate health services in the midst of a ravaging pandemic is almost akin to receiving the death sentence,” said Nurul.
Unfortunately without the necessary political will, she said there will be no change in status quo, leading to possible infections in future, and worse, more unavoidable deaths.
“The government must pro-actively deal with a serious health crisis emerging within prisons by proactively testing, isolating and treating inmates, as well as non-prison forms of punitive measures for minor offenders,” she said.
The Malaysian Prison Department has already taken the lead by launching a community-based rehabilitation and reintegration programme that aims to release on parole up to 75% of its eligible inmates by 2030.
The federal government must lend its support by placing concrete investments to help them achieve this target.
In addition, Nurul said we should not sending violators of the Movement Control Orders to prisons that are already struggling to cope.
“The prison reform agenda should be prioritised, in tandem with ongoing efforts by our Prisons Department - to implement stricter health measures in prisons including reducing the number of inmates, and conducting comprehensive testing and isolation of cases to prevent the rapid spread of infection among those in custody, prison staff, their families and those in the surrounding community.
“As these events unfold it is important to remember that society is measured by how it treats its marginalised segments.
“Prison should not be a death sentence. Our own prison charter affirms this. We should not stand by silently to watch yet more of those incarcerated succumb to our inability to protect their fundamental right to health.
“We should instead lend credence and meaning to the Prison Department’s charter of providing correctional services for all its inhabitants,” she added.