KUALA LUMPUR: The government must ensure prisoners serving longer jail terms instead of the death penalty for serious crimes under a proposed new law are able to turn over a new leaf on their return to society, a lawyer said.
Salim Bashir said a longer but fixed custodial sentence is, without doubt, better than requiring inmates to see out their natural life behind bars.
“Remaining in jail for the rest of one’s life is no different from a death sentence,” he told FMT.
The former Bar president was commenting on the government’s proposal to give judges the discretion when meting out sentences for offences such as murder, terrorism, hostage-taking, and drug trafficking.
It also recommends the removal of the death penalty under the Arms Act 1960 and the natural life jail term prescribed in the Firearms (Increased Penalty) Act 1971.
The Abolition of Mandatory Death Penalty Bill 2023, tabled for its first reading in the Dewan Rakyat on Monday, now proposes to give judges the option to impose jail terms of up to 40 years.
Currently, incarceration terms are capped at 30 years.
Salim said with a discount on jail terms given for good behaviour, younger prisoners serving time for serious crimes can still expect to go free at some point and become productive citizens.
“I am hoping that the mandatory death penalty and natural life imprisonment term will be removed from the statute books,” said Salim who practises criminal law.
He added that these punishments have not succeeded in reducing crime.
Lawyer Rafique Rashid Ali also hopes the government will enact a new law that allows exceptionally well-behaved inmates an early release.
“In addition, the government must undertake meaningful prison reforms, which should include suitable rehabilitation programmes for inmates to prepare them for life after release,” he added.
Rafique, a former co-chair of the Bar Council’s criminal law committee, called for more skills training to be provided, including for older inmates, since longer jail terms will see more “senior citizens” in jail.
“A custodial sentence takes away a prisoner’s liberty. It, therefore, falls on the state to ensure that the dignity of all inmates remain intact.
“This can be realised by giving them hope that they will be productive and accepted by society after regaining their freedom,” he added.