KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 18 — An inmate waiting six months to post bail finally contracted Covid-19 after he was pushed from one prison to another, his lawyer Sangeet Kaur Deo said.
During a webinar organised by G25 Malaysia titled “Covid-19: Seeking solutions for prisons and refugees”, Sangeet shared how her client, who is in prison, has been waiting half a year for a court date to post bail because of delays due to the epidemic.
“He has been moved from one prison to another. In the process of quarantine procedure in in between prison and court, he has gone to several holding camps and I have recently learnt that he has got Covid-19,” Sangeet, who is also a member of the All Parliamentary Group Malaysia for the Reform of All Places of Detention (APPGM), said today.
She highlighted how most prisons are overcrowded; some running above their actual capacity. For example, the Penang and Taiping prisons are running more than 200 per cent of their actual capacity.
“In view of that, it is absolutely impossible, it is unrealistic to have standard operating procedures (SOP) conducted within the prison. Social distancing is obviously impossible.
“They do not have access to water to be able to wash their hands regularly during the day. In fact, water is often rationed. Supplies of mask and personal protective equipment (PPE), even that is questionable,” Sangeet added.
The lawyer said that she was in court recently, where she saw one out of three men who were sitting in the dock not wearing a face mask.
“They were not my clients, but I did go and ask the one sitting in the middle why he did not have a mask. And he told me that his mask broke and he was not given another.”
Senator Liew Chin Tong, who was also part of the panel, said that 19 per cent of the prison population in Malaysia, including prison guards, have been infected with Covid-19.
“That is very serious, means, one in five prisoners or prison guards have been infected by Covid in the last months.”
Both Liew and Sangeet pointed out that a major portion, 63 per cent, of prison inmates in Malaysia were incarcerated for minor drug use.
Universiti Malaya professor of medicine and infectious disease expert Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, who was the moderator of the webinar, explained that sending minor drug offenders to prison puts them in a place where they can learn how to use harder narcotics, get extensive networks on drugs etc.
“We are actually making things worse by putting them in prison,” Dr Adeeba stressed.
In prison, Dr Adeeba said, there are no trained professionals to help deal with the medical and biological change that comes with addiction. She said 80 per cent of addicted drug users relapse within the first week after release from prison.
Hence, the panel agreed that sending drug offenders to rehabilitation centres is a better solution than sending them to prisons.
“Other countries around the world begin their early release for similar programmes as early as April or May last year. We are now in February 2021 and we are still just talking about it,” Sangeet told the panel.
“So, Malaysia, we are late. Yes, the Parliament is not sitting but in times of emergency, isn’t the Executive supposed to be in charge? Can’t they do this overnight? That was the whole basis of the argument to suspend Parliament in the first place so they could pass quicker legislation that was required to handle Covid,” Sangeet added.
“So, this is their moment. They can shine, if they really have the intention to do it.”