A bipartisan parliamentary group has spoken out against the government's proposal to temporarily seize buildings as depots for detainees as a measure to reduce overcrowding in prisons, fearing that such a move could cause Covid-19 outbreaks.
In a statement yesterday, the All Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia for the Reform of All Places of Detention (APPGM) said opening up more prisons or temporary places of detention can potentially make the problem much worse.
"Opening more prisons or temporary places of detention will be a logistical and resource nightmare in that people who are transferred to the new facilities will need to be screened and isolated before being allowed to interact with people from other prisons," said APPGM, led by Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker Azalina Othman Said (photo, above).
The move will stretch limited supplies such as basic personal protective equipment, hand sanitisers, soaps, and life-saving medications for patients with pre-existing conditions; this along with limited human resources, even more burdening the already overwhelmed health system, said the group.
APPGM feared that this could create more Covid-19 outbreaks.
On Jan 19, Chief Secretary to the Government Mohd Zuki Ali said the government might put forward a special ordinance under the emergency proclamation to use any building as a temporary depot to address overcrowding in prisons which can cause the spread and rise in Covid-19 cases.
Meanwhile, APPGM also disagreed with the government's decision to impose a jail term against movement control order (MCO) offenders.
On Dec 28, Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Ismail Sabri said stubborn employers who violate the Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOPs), including defying mandatory testing for migrant workers, could be charged in court.
"We implore the government to reconsider the suggestion to impose a long jail term for MCO offenders. The implementation of this approach will only aggravate the overcrowding in prisons, and further contribute to the bottlenecks of the release of people in prisons qualified for Release on Licence (ROL).
"As such, we reiterate our stand that the government should proceed to grant managed early or conditional release from all prisons and places of detention, as already initiated by the Prison's Department," said APPGM
"To start, the Prison's Department has identified 11,018 people in prison with non-violent minor offences sentenced to less than one year for the Release on Licence (ROL) programme. As this is already provided for within the law now, no further amendment to the law is necessary for immediate action and implementation.
"The early release of the identified 11,018 will be coupled with community reintegration to ensure adequate linkage and support for a continuum of care upon release is provided," it said.
APPGM also urged the government to explore alternative penalties for MCO violations. It said the government could increase fines towards companies and businesses and introduce community services for the offenders.
"The country is now at a critical juncture in this battle against the pandemic. If we do not take evidence-based action now, we risk jeopardising the billions of ringgit invested towards containment and mitigation within the Malaysian community at large.
"The Prison's Department must be given the necessary support from the government to be able to implement the proposed early release and contain the spread of Covid-19 in detention centres urgently," said APPGM.