(Kajang, Tuesday): Three weeks in the Kajang Prisons as a "long-term prisoner", losing six pounds in the first 18 days in jail, DAP Deputy Secretary-General and MP for Kota Melaka, Lim Guan Eng feels very strongly the need for urgent prison reforms for a more humane treatment of prisoners, a more equitable and attractive pay for warders and a better rehabilitation system that encourages a criminal to turn over a new leaf instead of encouraging them to turn to crime upon release.
Guan Eng has found the conditions in Kajang Prisons, which must apply to other prisons in the country, in urgent need for an overhaul and rules drawn up in the colonial times which are cruel and inhumane must give way to rules in keeping with modern-day thinking and philosophy of a caring society and promoting family values.
It is most shocking that the prison authorities are still operating under the Prison Rules 1953, drawn up by the British colonial authorities 45 years ago, and modern prison reforms seem to have passed Malaysia by for the past five decades.
At present for instance, Guan Eng is allowed a family visit once in four weeks confined to three family members. Such rules are undeniable cruel and inhumane and not compatible with the government’s own policy of promoting family values by bringing the family closer together.
Why shouldn't Guan Eng and other prisoners be allowed weekly family visits?
Guan Eng for instance is denied newspapers. What is the rationale for such a rule?
Clearly many prison rules are outdated, dehumanising and worse, soul-destroying. Guan Eng feels strongly that the time has come for reforms to be made to the prison rules in accordance with current international norms and residual rights of prisoners.
The colonial prison rules institutionalised a form of penal slavery in the prisons by creatintg a master-servant relationship between the warders and the prisoners.
It is clear that the salary and working conditions of prison warders should also be urgently looked into, as they have their own frustration over low pay, lack of incentives and discriminatory treatment by the government.
For instance, their salary scale is lower than the police even though they are supposed to be at the same level. The Prisons Special Unit known as the UKP does not receive any special allowances unlike that given to the special police unit known as the Federal Reserve Unit.
Naturally, the wardens’ morale are affected and their frustrations boil over. This is why any prison reforms must mean the regularisation of the pay and provision of incentives to warders to build professionalism in the prison ranks. Professionalism cannot exist on an empty stomach.
In fact, without professionalism, there can be no systematic and effective rehabilitation of prisoners. Instead the old adage of a person entering the prison as a petty thief will come out as a potential armed robber holds true.
I have asked Guan Eng to submit a full report on the conditions in Kajang Prisons, why the rules are cruel and inhumane and how there can be professionalism at all levels of prison ranks so that the Malaysian Penal System can be regarded as a model penal system for other countries, whether developed or developing, to emulate.