Don’t put MCO violators into crowded Sabah prisons, visiting justices say

Police arrest youths who violate the movement control order in Jelutong, Penang, March 28, 2020. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudi
Police arrest youths who violate the movement control order in Jelutong, Penang, March 28, 2020. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudi

KOTA KINABALU, April 6 — Concerned with overcrowding in Malaysia’s prisons, the Board of Visiting Justices for Sabah Prisons (BVJ) joined those urging authorities to find non-custodial sentences for those convicted of violating the movement control order.

Its chairman Datuk Katherine Lee Mei Oi said prisons in the state do not need the possibility of sending the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) directly into the prison population.

“This is indeed disheartening for the inmates and officers in the prisons because there is no concrete way to know whether the intake of new inmates are Covid-19 free or positive. There is definitely no room in the prisons for inmates to be quarantined. This will pose a danger to the health and safety of the existing inmates and the officers and subsequently their families too,” she said in a statement today.

She said those in the prison were isolated from Covid-19 so long as there is no intake of new inmates who might have been exposed.

“Visitations by families and friends of the existing inmates have already been prohibited under the MCO so there is less chance of the spread of any virus from inmates in the confines of the prisons to their families and friends outside,” she said.

Currently, those convicted of breaching MCO may be fined up to RM1,000 or sentenced to imprisonment for up to six months under Rule 3(1) of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Measures Within the Infected Local Areas) Regulations 2020.

Lee’s concern echoes that Prisons director-general Datuk Seri Zulkifli Omar, non-government organisations and the public that more appropriate sentences be meted by the courts for flouters of MCO such as warning and counselling, fines, suspension of driver’s licence, bind over, compound community services as provided under the Offenders Compulsory Attendance Act 1954.

Zulkifli recently sent a letter to the Chief Registrar’s Office, requesting MCO violators not be sent to prison since social distancing is impossible to maintain.

Lee said that while there was the need for stricter enforcement of MCO, violations should be treated as misdemeanours and not seen in the same light as violent crimes.

“Incarceration should not be a resort at all for flouters of MCO as they carry a stigma of jail record (for a misdemeanour), not to mention it will increase the government costs to house them in prison which in turn will be an extra burden on the taxpayers in our already frail current economy.

“Consideration should be taken for first-time offenders, the non-violent nature of the breach of MCO, the unprecedented situation of lockdown that everyone is suddenly encaged into by Covid-19, in an uncertain world pandemic,” said Lee.

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