KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 11 — A bipartisan parliamentary group called today for immediate reform of prisons and other detention facilities, saying Covid-19 can spread from places of incarceration to the general community.
The All Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia for the Reform of All Places of Detention (APPGM) said that a Covid-19 outbreak in a prison is like a death sentence to prisoners, prison staff, officers, and their families, because they have no way to protect themselves.
“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,” APPGM said in a statement.
The statement was endorsed by members of the APPGM committee, including Deputy Dewan Rakyat Speaker and Pengerang MP Azalina Othman Said, Batang Lupar MP Rohani Abdul Karim, Senator Sri Vell Paari, Permatang Pauh MP Nurul Izzah, Sepanggar MP Mohd Azis Jammam, Senator Liew Chin Tong, Advocate and Solicitor Sangeet Kaur, and Messrs Amin Karlos.
Home Affairs Minister Hamzah Zainudin said that as of November 3 last year, a total of 1,160 prisoners, 125 prison staff, and family members had contracted the coronavirus.
APPGM, in their statement, pointed out that most prisons have gone back into total lockdown in recent weeks due to the fierce spread of the coronavirus.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Health reported 86 positive Covid-19 cases from prison and detention centre clusters.
“The APPGM humbly appeals for an opportunity to engage and provide our technical input in an inclusive national Covid-19 task force,” APPGM said.
“The APPGM 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 federal government has yet to set up a national Covid-19 task force, even as health experts and Opposition lawmakers have called for the decentralisation of the country’s Covid-19 public health response amid a worsening epidemic.
According to APPGM, Malaysian prisons and places of detention have become Covid-19 breeding grounds when new inmates are brought in without screening for Covid-19, or before test results are known, which is in violation of the Prison Department’s standard operating procedures (SOPs).
Through the pandemic, it has been clearly shown that prison health is public health and the two are undeniably unrelated, APPGM said.
“Ignoring the spread of Covid-19 within the prison and detention centre walls will lead to ongoing spread and spillover into the general community,” APPGM said.
“There is an urgent need for a comprehensive prison health care system, upgraded health facilities, more medical staff and more medical supplies. Unless prison overcrowding is tackled, it is difficult to implement prison SOPs.”
On October 7, 2020, the Prisons Department recognised the need to act when it said that 11,018 inmates as of October 5, who are sentenced to less than a year with less than three months left to serve, can be considered for release on license (ROL).
“The release and community reintegration of the 11,018 individuals would be a great start towards reducing prison overcrowding,” said APPGM.
“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 civil society to ensure it is done properly.”