‘Allow MPs to visit prisoners, do spot checks’

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PETALING JAYA: A DAP lawmaker has asked the government to reinstate the prison law that had allowed MPs to visit prisoners to check on their welfare and health conditions.

M Kulasegaran said aside from politicians, human rights NGOs and other relevant authorities should also be given the right to carry out spot checks in prisons.

This comes after the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) revealed that prisoners’ access to healthcare was lacking.

According to Kulasegaran, MPs had always been allowed to visit prisoners, so as to check on their welfare and health condition.

However, in 1995, the Barisan Nasional-led government amended the law to stop such visits by lawmakers.

“This same law should be reinstated as deaths among prisoners show no signs of reducing,” Kulasegaran said.

Suhakam had previously said there were more than 100 deaths in immigration detention centres and 521 deaths in prisons in 2015 and 2016.

“Suhakam has reported on this before. This has been happening for years. So many prisoners die in prison. These are avoidable deaths.

“It is a matter of prison officers giving priority to health matters,” he told FMT when asked about the Suhakam report.

The report noted that prison health and medical services had yet to be transferred from the home ministry to the health ministry.

It further gave an example of a prison with 4,612 prisoners with only two doctors. There was also concern over the lack of female doctors to treat female prisoners.

The Ipoh Barat MP said a Royal Commission of Inquiry should also be set up to look into the matter.

Kulasegaran said his clients had complained many times of being denied access to medical care despite being sick.

“Sometimes, they are denied healthcare altogether or only given medical assistance after much delay.

“Even then, it is not a doctor who’ll be visiting them but an assistant medical officer (medical assistant). They are usually prescribed Panadol, nothing substantial.”

Kulasegaran said prisoners are seen as the group that contributes the least to the country’s economy and, therefore, are sometimes treated in a “barbaric way”.

“This group suffers in silence. My clients tell me that while their medical needs are not looked into immediately, prison officers seek medical treatment at lightning speed if they fall ill.”

He said the prison system needs to be revamped so that prisoners are given proper medical care.

Suhakam’s report was based on a nationwide survey of 6,420 randomly selected individuals (5,482 prisoners, 886 prison staff and 52 prison medical staff) from 18 prisons in the country.

Another issue the commission pointed out was the conflicting “dual loyalty” that prison doctors had to their patients (prisoners) and as subordinates to the prison director.

“In terms of medical ethics, doctors should never be involved in security or disciplinary matters of any kind,” the report said.

Prisoners’ access to healthcare and quality of care is bad, says Suhakam