Humane conditions can rehabilitate prisoners


By Eric Paulsen

Lawyers for Liberty is deeply concerned over the recent suggestion by former Court of Appeal judge Mohd Noor Abdullah that detention conditions in prisons be made worse by, among others, making it infested with rats, cockroaches and mosquitoes as a form of deterrence.

Incredibly, Deputy Home Minister Nur Jazlan Mohamed also agreed with the judge’s inhumane and cruel suggestion that is more appropriate in medieval times than in this day and age.

The suggestion by the former judge and agreed by the Deputy Minister comes all the more shocking in light of the recent revelation that a total of 721 inmates have died in Malaysian prisons between 2013 and April 30, 2016 – an average of 18 deaths per month.

The 721 prisoners included 699 men and 22 women, with 427 Malays, 104 Chinese, 91 Indians, 10 others and 89 foreign citizens.

According to Minister of Home Affairs Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s written parliamentary reply to Member of Parliament N Surendran in May 2016, most of the 721 prisoners died due to diseases such as HIV, cancer, cardiac arrest, blood and lung diseases, tuberculosis, and asthma. He did not however provide information on the number of prisoners who died due to each disease, nor did he state how many prisoners died as a result of other causes, such as suicide, homicide, neglect or abuse.

Instead of reforming the prisons system to be more in line with international standards rather than comparing with poorer conditions in the Philippines and Indonesia, is the Deputy Minister seriously contemplating making detention conditions worse, more inhumane and cruel, so that prisoners can fall ill or even die during detention?

Reports by Suhakam from as early as 2002 have related how overcrowding of prisons, some at twice their stipulated capacity, increased the risk of transmission of diseases and fights between prisoners. The reports lamented the lack of medical facilities for sick prisoners and a severe shortage of doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists.

Ex-inmates including Hindraf leader P Uthayakumar have also given shocking accounts of how prison authorities intimidated prisoners with physical abuse and deliberately denied medical care to sick inmates.

Rather than moving backwards and wanting prison conditions to be worse than the current 18 deaths every month, the government should be striving towards a more modern approach that safeguards the well-being and dignity of prisoners, promotes rehabilitation rather than punishment, and prepares them for life on the outside, so that they can return to society and not relapse into criminal behaviour.

Eric Paulsen is executive director of Lawyers for Liberty.

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