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Overcrowded prisons risk more COVID-19 outbreaks


SUHAKAM calls for the Malaysian government to address prison overcrowding as a matter of urgency.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) has called for the government to address severe overcrowding in the country's prisons to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

In a virtual press conference, Commissioner Jerald Joseph said Malaysia's prison system was operating at 40 per cent above capacity, greatly increasing the risk of spreading the virus.

He noted that the total capacity for the nation's prisons is 53,830, while the actual number of inmates as of 15 October was 72,903.

Similarly, the capacity of immigration detention centres is 12,530 but as of 1 July a total of 15,163 people was held in detention.

Speaking on the findings of the Commission's detention monitoring work, Commissioner Joseph said it was imperative that overcrowding be addressed as a matter of urgency, as physical distancing in such environments is virtually impossible.

"Now is the time to find serious answers to overcrowding in the Malaysian penal system," he said.

Commissioner Joseph said SUHAKAM recommended that remand prisoners with light or non-violent offences, or drug addicted prisoners who pose no threat to the public and those with chronic illnesses, should either be granted early – or at least conditional – release.

"This also applies to inmates currently being detained for minor offences or socio-economic problems, senior citizens with existing illnesses, as well as those with mental illness," he said.

SUHAKAM also recommended that authorities consider circumstances where non-custodial measures could be used, such those who are detained because they are unable to pay the bail bond – a group comprising 30 per cent of the total prison population.

"SUHAKAM recommends the government use alternative methods including non-cash bail or bonds, support from guarantors, or the suspect reporting to the nearest police station on a daily basis, and other suitable mechanisms, so as to reduce the number of inmates during a time when COVID-19 is spreading," Commissioner Joseph said.

"Similarly, to curb COVID-19 during prisoner transfers or other related journeys, we advise tight screening be conducted in all court lockups under a focal agency," he said.

Date: 12 November 2020

Source: Malay Mail