Prisons needs to meet minimum UN guidelines

n-sivanathan-UNPETALING JAYA: Malaysia must conform with the United Nations (UN) guidelines that require authorities to treat prisoners with dignity, a lawyer with the International Criminal Court said.

N Sivananthan said the UN Standards Minimum Rules For Treatment of Prisoners was not binding on Malaysia but it was high time the authorities improved prison conditions.

“We are in breach of almost all the rules in the UN guidelines and are sticking to the benchmark left by our British colonial masters,” he told FMT.

Sivananthan said this in response to the case of prisoner Chandran Muniandy, who had allegedly been assaulted in the Sungai Jawi Prison in Penang and said to have had his toenails pulled off.

The 42 year old was sentenced to six months’ jail for causing hurt with a dangerous weapon on Jan 20.

He was admitted to the intensive care unit of the Seberang Jaya hospital on Feb 8 and a doctor in charge of Chandran had said that apart from visible injuries on his head and legs, his skull was also found to be cracked.

Penang Prison director Senior Asst Comm Kamarudzaman Mamat was reported as saying that Chandran was in solitary confinement due to mental instability.

His mother, Pachaee Pakiry, however, questioned the prison authorities why her son was not sent for a psychiatric evaluation or treatment if he was mentally unstable.

Last month, the media also reported that a 21-year-old convict was sentenced to nine years’ jail and given three strokes of the rotan for sodomising his 19-year-old cellmate in Jasin, Malacca.

The convict, already serving time for car theft, had only two weeks left to complete his jail term.

Lawyers acquainted with prison laws and regulations said it was the duty of wardens to ensure convicts were not harmed by prison staff, by other detainees or that they did not harm themselves.

Sivananthan, who has specialised in criminal practice over the last 25 years, said to start with there were improper sleeping facilities like mattresses for inmates.

Disruption in water supply

However, the common complaints from his clients, during visits to almost all prisons in the country, was the irregular water and electricity supply.

“The UN rules states inmates must be given adequate bathing and shower facilities at a temperature suitable to the local climate but here my clients complaints of disruption in water supply,” he said.

Sivananthan said the lack of nutritional food and medical facilities contributed to most prisoners suffering from skin diseases.

“Inmates are only sent to nearby government hospitals when their conditions become serious, if not they are just given painkillers,” he said.

He said prisoners must be treated in a humane way or else their anger and resentment would make them hardened criminals upon release.

“I hope the home ministry will set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry to improve prison conditions that include effective rehabilitation programmes,” he said.

Sivananthan said the prisons department were challenged in their task due to overcrowding and handling of foreign nationals held here as remand or convicted prisoners.

As of October last year, there were 51,602 inmates, which is 6,292 more than the prisons nationwide could accomodate.

Sivananthan said many inmates suffered from depression as they were kept in solitary confinement and were only allowed to interact with others for only an hour a day.

Internet access

Meanwhile, lawyer Salim Bashir said the prisons department should take advantage of the advancement in information technology to allow prisoners, especially the foreign nationals, internet access to contact their family members.

“They can email letters, or go on Skype under strict guidance to communicate with their loved ones,” he said, adding that this could reduce the tension building within them.

However, he said Malaysia must study if such privileges were accorded to prisoners in other countries as national security was a top priority.

Salim said sporadic incidents like that of Chandran’s and the sexual abuse case were signs that worse things could happen or had taken place and it was time for the authorities to be receptive to reform.