A bi-partisan group has reiterated calls for Putrajaya to address prison overcrowding which has lately contributed to the spread of Covid-19.
In a response to a Malaysiakini special report titled ‘Prison life amid the pandemic’, the All-Party Parliamentary Group Malaysia for the Reform of Prisons and All Places of Detention (APPGM) described the accounts of prisoners in the article as "upsetting".
The APPGM comprise of Azalina Othman Said (BN-Pengerang), Rohani Abdul Karim (GPS-Batang Lupar), Vell Paari (MIC-Senator), Mohd Azis Jamman (Warisan-Sepanggar), Liew Chin Tong (DAP-Senator), Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman (Universiti Malaya), and Sangeet Kaur Deo (lawyer).
A solution, said the APPGM, was to ensure those imprisoned for petty crimes such as violating Covid-19 protocols, should undergo corrective community programmes instead of incarceration.
"We know that 60 percent of people in prison are incarcerated for non-violent, minor, drug-related offences and many are temporarily detained in holding cells awaiting trials.
"They do not need to be in prison in the first place," said the APPGM.
The Prison Department attempted a "release on licence" programme in October last year, identifying 11,018 individuals for early release.
Putrajaya has also set up temporary detention centres to deal with prison overcrowding.
However, details on both programmes are scarce.
In February, Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin revealed that Putrajaya was in the midst of preparing a new law to keep drug abusers out of jail.
However, Parliament is set to only convene in late August at the earliest.
Meanwhile, the APPGM also urged Putrajaya to expedite the vaccination of prisoners because of the impact of prison health on the public.
The APPGM said they have received "positive feedback" on this proposal from the Special Committee On Covid-19 Vaccine Supply (JKJAV) on this request.
"It is urgent that we ensure the vaccine implementation is sooner than later, as it will support reducing community transmission," said the APPGM.
The APPGM also urged the government to focus on rehabilitation and reintegration of former inmates.
Reintegration, said the APPGM, was currently left to community groups with limited funding.
"Reintegration efforts cannot solely be charity or welfare-based. A National Reintegration Policy must be a part of the government's national strategy to reduce crime rates and to further facilitate decarceration," said the group.