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Call for restoration of parity of pay and perks of prison officers with the police which was lost in the SSB implementation in the early 90s, so that prison officers can provide professional service and maintain international prison and detention standards
- at the media conference of the Parliamentary Caucus on Human Rights
by Lim Kit Siang
(Parliament, Tuesday): One thing that struck MPs from the Parliamentary Caucus on Human Rights in the fact-finding visits to the Simpang Rengam and Kamunting Detention Camps on 14th and 17th June respectively is the need to transform prison staff into professionals and not just be responsible for locking people behind doors and high walls.
If this is to be achieved, then it is essential to treat prison officers as professionals and give them proper professional pay.
For a start, the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who is also the Internal Security Minister, should give his personal attention and support to restore the parity of pay and perks of prison officers with the police which was lost in the Sistem Saraan Baru (SSB) implementation in the early 90s, to the extent that there could now be a RM500 difference between equivalent ranks in the police and the prison services.
At present, poor salaries not only keep prisons understaffed but fail to bring out the professional best from the prison officers.
Three days after visiting the Simpang Rengam detention centre, MPs who made the trip must have been surprised to read of the statement by the Deputy Internal Security Minister Datuk Noh Omar in Seremban that six prisons in the country are bursting at the seams as they are overcrowded by more than 50 per cent, and the six named were prisons in Penang, Sungai Buloh, Kajang (for women), Kota Kinabalu, Tawan and Sandakan.
This is because the Parliamentary Caucus on Human Rights during its visit to
Simpang Rengam was informed that both the prison and detention centre in Johore was over-congested and overcrowded by some 72 per cent.
The Simpang Rengam Prison was built to house 2,000 prisoners, but since doubling up as a Detention Centre under various preventive criminal laws like the Prevention of Crime Act 1959, the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969 and the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act 1985, the Simpang Rengam Prison/Detention Centre are holding 3439 prisoners and detainees or some 72 per cent exceeding its maximum limit.
Out of the some 1,600 detainees under the various criminal detention-without-trial laws, over a thousand are related to dangerous drugs while 574 for suspected criminal activities. Indians with eight per cent of the Malaysian population is over-represented with some 48% of the detainees held for suspected criminal activities.
Why was Simpang Rengam omitted in the list of overcrowded prisons by Nor Omar, or is this another example of the lack of professionalism as a result of poor pay of the prison service?
The Police Royal Commission of Inquiry has recommended the repeal of the Emergency (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) Ordinance 1969 and the Prevention of Crime Act 1959, and amendment of Section 3 of the Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures ) Act 1985, which would mean the virtual close-down of the Simpang Rengam Detention Centre.
The government should give a considered response to this recommendation of the Police Royal Commission.
During our visit to Simpang Rengam detention centre, there were complaints that the six-month review by the Advisory Board to consider individual cases of detention had not been held as regularly as required by law.
This will be among the matters the Parliamentary Caucus on Human Rights is expecting a response from the Internal Security Ministry and prison authorities.