Over 1,200 Prisoners, Staff Contracted Covid-19 By Nov

The Benteng LD cluster that sparked Sabah’s Covid-19 outbreak started because the detainee that tested positive was only screened after he was placed in prison.

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 24 — A total of 1,160 prisoners, 125 prison staff and family members have tested positive with Covid-19 as of November 3, Hamzah Zainuddin said.

According to the Minister of Home Affairs in his written Dewan Rakyat reply on December 15, the prison department is following all the standard operating procedures (SOPs) set by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“The Malaysian prison department also has a fixed order from the department among which is that all prisoners before entering the prison, should get their Covid-19 screening results,” Hamzah said.

He was replying to Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo, who asked the minister to state the total number of Covid-19 cases in prisons and the government’s action in overcoming this issue, especially in ensuring the safety of detainees and officers who are on prison duty.

Hamzah explained the SOPs practiced throughout the prison, including when there’s a new inmate. Among the steps are:

  • Checking of warrant, health screening, prisoners should bathe, and physical distancing.
  • Registration of the prisoner while maintaining physical distancing, use of personal protective equipment, face shield, face mask, gloves, and avoiding contact unless required.
  • 14 dormitories for quarantine with sufficient isolation beds to ensure each dorm follows the daily admission, no mixing with admission from other days.
  • Maintaining Covid-19 screening order and adhering to quarantine termination procedures.

Meanwhile, SOPs are also maintained while accompanying inmates to the hospital, court, as well as while transferring inmates.

Benteng LD Cluster Started From Undocumented Immigrant Who Only Got Screened After Entering Prison

In another reply to Lahad Datu MP Mohammadin Ketapi, the minister of home affairs said that the spread of Covid-19 in Tawau prison started with the admission of an undocumented immigrant detainee.

“The spread of Covid-19 in Tawau prison started with the admission of an illegal immigrant prisoner from Lahad Datu district police headquarters that did not do Covid-19 screening earlier and screening was only done when the inmate entered the prison,” Hamzah told Mohamaddin.

“After the positive screening results were received from that particular prisoner, screening was done among all other inmates in the Tawau Prison’s quarantine block and over time, the number of Covid-19 cases among inmates continued to rise.”

The Lahad Datu MP had asked the minister to state the extent of compliance to SOPs practiced until there was an outbreak of the Benteng LD cluster.

Government Taking Various Measures To Reduce Prison Overcrowding

On November 3, Deputy Home Minister II Jonathan Yasin told the Dewan Rakyat that the number of prisoners nationwide was 66,791, which was 43.88 per cent more than the actual capacity of prisons which can only accommodate 46,420 prisoners.

According to Hamzah in another Dewan Rakyat reply on December 15, the Malaysian prison department has built additional blocks in some prison institutions to reduce the problem of congestion and overcrowding in prisons.

He was replying to Kluang MP Wong Shu Qi, who asked the minister to state the government’s short-term plans in reducing prison overcrowding to overcome the spread of infectious diseases.

The minister of home affairs said that the parole system and compulsory attendance order has been intensified.To date, there are 56,247 people who are undergoing rehabilitation at the Correctional Rehabilitation Centre, which is outside of prison.

The prison department has also started implementing the Licensed Release of Prisoners (PBSL), a programme for prisoners whose sentence is less than a year.

“Through this programme, inmates who meet the selection requirements can follow programs such as employment training programmes in manufacturing, construction, services, and the agricultural sectors,” the Bersatu MP said.

Currently, there are about 11,000 inmates who are sentenced to less than a year of imprisonment. The PBSL board, which involves memberships from external parties, during their first meeting in early October 2020, has evaluated that a total of 1,200 inmates are eligible for a release.

The prisons department will also be refining vocational training skills and certification training to enable eligible inmates to follow the Industrial Occupancy Reintegration program.

“Employment opportunities are among the key factors that can curb recurrence of criminal cases and recidivism.”

Besides that, Hamzah also said that the prisons department has collaborated with the court and the Malaysian Immigration Department to expedite the return of undocumented immigrants back to their home country as soon as they have completed their sentences.

The government is also examining the need for legislative amendments related to drug abuse offences and the policy of transferring drug abusers from imprisonment to treatment and rehabilitation centres instead. This is in line with the decision of the Law and Enforcement Action Committee Meeting on July 21 this year.

National Service camps have also been used as admission prisons and to place convicts and prisoners who are in the minimum security category, Hamzah said.

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