PETALING JAYA: Putrajaya must work out a repatriation programme to reduce overcrowding in Malaysian jails, a problem compounded by the imprisonment of foreign nationals, a lawyer says.
Baljit Sidhu said there must be a government-to-government understanding on sending foreigners back to spend remaining jail time in their prisons.
“This will greatly help in reducing the cost of taking care of prisoners, like their food and health,” he told FMT.
He said most foreigners were in prison for drug trafficking offences, which carried the death penalty.
“A prisoner could spend between 10 and 20 years, depending on the outcome of the court verdict and decision of the Pardons Board following clemency applications,” he said.
He was responding to a 2016 report by the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) that highlighted the “serious humanitarian issue” of overcrowding in the country’s prisons and detention centres.
The report said the government’s budgetary limitations had compromised the basic human rights of prisoners.
The commission said a 2016 visit to the Sungai Buloh Prison showed it had 5,209 inmates although its gazetted capacity was 3,000, far exceeding its limit by over 50%.
Meanwhile, a visit to the Pengkalan Chepa Prison showed there were 2,500 inmates, against its gazetted capacity of 1,500.
Last October, Deputy Home Minister Masir Kujat told the Dewan Rakyat that 31% or 15,000 out of 51,000 prison inmates were foreigners.
Baljit, who is a member of the Malaysian Bar Council criminal law committee, said it would cost about RM40 a day to upkeep the prisoners.
“The cost will be higher if we take into account the budget for the upkeep of prison staff, utilities and other maintenance costs,” he said, adding that the money came from taxpayers.
He said the long years in prison, especially in solitary confinement, after being found guilty of death penalty offences, had caused some to suffer from mental illnesses.
FMT recently reported that a Nigerian, reputed to be one of Malaysia’s longest serving condemned prisoners, was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Michael Philip Spears escaped the gallows following the decision of the Pardons Board in February to commute his death sentence to natural life imprisonment.
He spent 20 years in jail, the last 16 in solitary confinement, after he was convicted of murder.