Free Non-Violent Offenders To Prevent Covid-19 Prison Outbreak: Experts

Detention centres are currently at 121%-200% over-capacity.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 8 — Medical experts today urged the government to grant an early release to non-violent offenders, especially those serving short sentences, to prevent coronavirus outbreaks in overcrowded prisons.

They pointed out that detention centres currently were at 121 per cent to 200 per cent over-capacity without fully functional health services, jeopardising prisoners, officers, staff, and the community.

“Poor ventilation, overcrowding, existing poor health amongst detainees make places of detention akin to incubators for infectious diseases,” said several medical and anti-detention non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in a statement, pointing out that tuberculosis in Malaysian prisons was already a problem even before the Covid-19 crisis.

They noted that over 35 countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, and Saudi Arabia, have released detainees early. Indonesia also recently issued early release to 50,000 detainees.

“While violations of the MCO (Movement Control Order) / CMCO (Conditional Movement Control Order) should not be taken lightly, sending violators to any place of detention, i.e. police lock-up, jail, temporary detention, immigration detention, juvenile detention and prison—is working against Malaysia’s national Covid-19 health strategy, putting thousands of Malaysians at risk,” they said.

The organisations called for the end of custodial sentences for MCO offenders and for a moratorium on new admissions to all places of detention.

The signatories of the joint statement were:

  • Academy of Medicine Malaysia
  • College of Physicians Malaysia
  • International Detention Coalition (IDC)
  • End Child Detention Network of Malaysia
  • Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC)
  • Prison Fellowship Malaysia
  • Karpal Singh & Co
  • Centre of Excellence for Research in AIDS (CERiA)
  • Malaysian Alliance for Drug Policy Reform
  • Centre for Drug Research Universti Sains Malaysia (USM), Research for Social Advancement (REFSA)
  • Pink Triangle (PT) Foundation
  • Malaysian Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis
  • University Malaya Centre for Addiction Sciences (UMCAS)
  • Insaf Murni
  • Voice of the Children
  • Malaysian CARE
  • Messrs. Andrew Khoo & Daniel Lo
  • Tenaganita
  • Childline Foundation

Senior Defence Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said recently that the CMCO, implemented from May 4 till May 12, still mandated punishment of an RM1,000 fine, six months’ jail, or both for non-compliance.

While Malaysian courts have meted out fines for breaching lockdown measures since the government imposed the MCO from March 18, the courts have also sentenced others to prison.

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