In response to the recent guilty verdict of former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was sentenced to prison for the SRC International case, the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) is concerned that Malaysia’s current prisons and detention centres do not have health and medical facilities that are up to standard.
Regardless of the social status of the inmates behind bars, the rights of the inmates must be guaranteed and treated humanely as per our Prison Act 1995 (Act 537). In the stance of KLSCAH, it is commendable and legal for the Jabatan Penjara Malaysia to provide equal treatment to every prisoner, including Najib, without preference for his status as an influential political figure. However, this does not mean that the authorities can whitewash the poor conditions of our prisons environment, which have been exposed to the public many times.
The public has always commented on the poor hygiene conditions, the lack of food supply and medical facilities in Malaysian prisons and detention centres. Past Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) reports have revealed that the living conditions in our prisons and detention centres are deplorable, especially during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Clusters of infections in prisons are frequent, such as the Tembok Cluster in prison in Kota Setar, Kedah. This cluster broke out in late 2020, due to poor prison conditions – and the unarguable fact that an overwhelming number of inmates the prison’s capacity. With more than thousands of confirmed Covid-19 cases, there are even infection cases happening during cross-state confinement.
KLSCAH believes that the government and the opposition should immediately explore the possibility of amending the Prison Act 1995. The implementation of a penal system reform is an urgent matter. After all, many of the provisions in the Prison Act are policies left behind by the British colonial system. There are questions on whether they still fit with the reality of our correctional facilities, given the current state of these prisons. Meanwhile, what is worthy and up for debate, is the enforcement of prisoners’ rights.
KLSCAH hopes that Malaysians realise that the criticism towards Najib’s imprisonment is only a drop in the ocean of many cases. Thousands of prisoners are experiencing more unbearable prison conditions, even where there are violations of their human rights. Therefore, we call upon relevant authorities to face the issues of current correctional facilities. Problems such as overcrowding, and shortage of food and medical facilities, we need to explore improvements to the overall system of prisons and detention centres and actively promote the reform of the penal system.