Many Inmates Don T Deserve Their Jail Time Says Lawyer


PETALING JAYA: A lawyer has called for sentencing guidelines to ensure the proportionality of punishment to crimes, especially in the case of petty offences
Speaking to FMT, Samantha Chong said the availability of such guidance to the courts would go some way towards resolving the issue of overcrowding in prisons
She said current principles laid down in case laws were not specific enough to ensure the fitness of punishments for petty crimes such as possession of small amounts of narcotics and theft motivated by hunger
The courts should have guidance on specific factors such as the severity of harm suffered by victims and the blameworthiness of the offender, she added
On Wednesday, Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Prisons director Abdul Kadir Rais was quoted as saying that prisons under his charge had exceeded the capacity limit of 8,200 by 3,700
Chong said reducing the length of incarceration for certain offences would help ease the situation
She noted that countries such as Britain had definite guidelines for drug offences. “But in Malaysia, it does not matter whether it is soft drugs or hard drugs or if the offender is self-medicating or suffering from a mental condition. The predominant factor is the weight of the drug.”She also spoke of poor people being jailed for stealing food or fined for the offence and serving jail time anyway for their inability to pay the fine
“In those circumstances, a good behaviour bond and referral to social welfare supports might serve the public interest better,” she said
She said jail time in such cases would not solve the real problem
“Generally, people don’t steal food because they like to do so, but out of desperation. We can’t expect the problem to disappear by locking them up.”She also called for a revised prosecution guideline, saying the preliminary urine testing on drug offence suspects could yield false positive results
“Many who cannot afford court bail can be detained for up to five months while awaiting chemists’ reports,” she said. “They can’t plead guilty even if they want to without those reports
“This leads to prison overcrowding and the spread of infectious diseases.”She suggested that minor drug offenders be diverted away from the criminal justice system to a health referral system
“Prisons always try what they can to rehabilitate, but they don’t have the capacity and resources to provide drug dependence treatment,” she said
She noted that there was a drop in the arrest rate of repeat drug users about 14 years ago and said this was because they were channelled away from detention centres to voluntary treatment centres
But this policy had since been reversed in practice, she said
Former National Drug Agency deputy director Sangeeth Kaur agreed that people caught with small amounts of drugs for personal use should be sent to treatment centres instead of prison
She said nearly 60% of prisoners were minor drug offenders
Reducing overcrowding in prisons would also reduce the risk of transmission of infectious diseases like TB, she added
Another lawyer, Rafique Rashid Ali, suggested that overcrowding could be reduced if the authorities allowed a shorter timeline for parole
He also spoke of foreigners making up a sizeable number of inmates and suggested negotiations with their countries of origin with a view to repatriating them to serve time there. - FMT

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