Support for Prisons Director-General’s proposal that MCO violaters should not be jailed because of Covid-19 pandemic – in fact, there should be early release of prisoners to reduce overcrowding of jails to avoid Covid-19 outbreak

With the global total of Covid-19 pandemic increasing for the first time by over 100,000 cases in the last 24 hours, it is a stark reminder that Malaysia cannot flourish in post-Covid-19 pandemic economics if the world cannot flourish.

The global total of Covid-19 cases is now 1,200,372 as against yesterday’s 1,091,215 cases.

The United States has become the foremost epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic, establishing two grim records yesterday with confirmed Covid-19 cases increasing by over 30,000 cases (i.e. 33,125 cases) in a single day to reach a country total of 310,266 cases, while recording over a thousand deaths (i.e. 1,037 deaths) to reach a total of 8,441 confirmed Covid-19 deaths

The United States ranks third in the total number of Covid-19 deaths, after Italy with a total fatality of 15,362 and Spain with a total fatality of 11,947. The total Covid-19 fatality in these three countries reaches 35,750 – which is nearly eleven times China’s total death toll of 3,326 from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Data for the top 12 countries with most number of Covid-19 cases (which also contain the 12 top countries for Covid-19 deaths) and Malaysia are as follows:

  • United States 310,284 cases; 8,452 deaths (2.7%)
  • Spain 126,168 cases; 11,947 deaths (9.47%)
  • Italy 124,632 cases; 15,362 deaths (12.3%)
  • Germany 96,092 cases; 1,444 deaths (1.5%)
  • France 89,953 cases; 7,560 deaths (8.4%)
  • China 81,639 cases; 3,326 deaths (4.07%)
  • Iran 55,743 cases; 3,452 deaths (6.2%)
  • UK 41,903 cases; 4,313 deaths (10.3%)
  • Turkey 23,934 cases; 501 deaths (2.09%)
  • Switzerland 20,505 cases; 666 deaths (3.25%)
  • Belgium 18,431 cases; 1,283 deaths (6.96%)
  • Netherlands 16,627 cases; 1,651 deaths (9.9%)
  • Malaysia 3,483 cases; 57 deaths (1.64%)

The world outlook for the Covid-19 is quite grim, but we must do whatever is possible in the invisible global war against Covid-19 pandemic to learn from the best practices in other countries to win the battle against the novel coronavirus, and even more important, to win the battle of pandemic economics.

I support the proposal of the Prison’s Director-General, Zulkifli Omar that the courts should stop jailing people for violating the movement control order (MCO) precisely because of the Covid-119 pandemic which had brought the MCO into existence in the first place.

The courts should be strict with the MCO violaters but should keep to non-custodial sentences as jailing them will defeat the very purpose of the MCO to break the chain of transmission of the novel coronavirus and to “flatten the curve”.

Even more serious and dangerous, sending the MCO violaters to jail exposes them to the danger of Covid-19 infections, especially as the country’s prisons are vastly overcrowded with 73,000 prisoners being housed in spaces intended to hold 52,000 inmates in the 50 prisons in the country.

Under these overcrowded conditions in the prisons, social distancing would be impossible.

For this reason, the close to 400 violaters of the MCO who have been jailed should have their sentences altered to non-custodial sentences.

This is also to protect the prison personnel, who would have no personal protective equipment (PPE) and be most vulnerable if there is a Covid-19 outbreak in the prisons.

In fact, the government should go one step further.

Many jurisdictions in other countries are releasing prisoners in overcrowded prisons because social distancing is impossible in these locked facilities and the unhygienic conditions and lack of health care resources in jails put lives at serious risk with the Covid-19 outbreak.

On Friday, a total of 22,158 prisoners in Indonesia who had served two-thirds of their sentences were released in a bid to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission in overcrowded detention facilities.

The Indonesian government is set to release a total of 30,000 prisoners but the number does not include those convicted for corruption, terrorism, and drug-related crimes.

In India last week, the Supreme Court asked state governments to consider giving parole to those facing up to seven-year jail term in a bid to decongest prisons on account of the Covid-19 outbreak.

In the United Kingdom, the government has announced that lower risk prisoners at the end of their custodial sentence will be considered for early release, amid fears that a prison outbreak of COVID-19 could overwhelm local hospitals.

The Malaysian government should do the same to avert a Covid-19 outbreak in view of the overcrowded conditions in Malaysian prisons, by allowing the early release of prisoners, especially the elderly, people within months of scheduled release, people whose charges are misdemeanors or non-violent felonies, individuals whose health leaves them at particular risk from COVID-19 and whose crime involves no physical harm to another person.

Lim Kit Siang MP for Iskandar Puteri