PETALING JAYA, Feb 17: A non-governmental organisation focused on stopping deaths in custody has urged authorities to improve the Covid-19 standard operating procedures in prisons, saying it is obvious that current measures are not working.
Eliminating Deaths and Abuse in Custody Together (EDICT) chairman M Visvanathan noted that infections and the development of clusters were still being reported in prisons.
Visvanathan told FMT the SOPs on handling detainees that Putrajaya announced last October might not be adequate.
He questioned whether handcuffs and the vehicles transporting prisoners were sanitised often enough.
He also said he had observed at the courts that physical distancing was not observed in prisoner transport vehicles and that most detainees were not provided masks.
“Some lawyers have even gone so far as buying masks and distributing them to detainees and police officers,” he said.
“All the swabbing and quarantine in the world won’t resolve anything if these basic things are not looked at seriously.”
Visvanathan asked whether the holding cells at the courts were sanitised regularly since these would house several detainees in a day.
He said EDICT warned Putrajaya to look after the welfare of prisoners and detainees when the pandemic first struck.
“If they’re infected and go to court, the officers dealing with them could get infected. They might then bring the virus home and infect their families, who might then infect others.”
He said it was essential that the health ministry and other authorities make improvements to the SOPs to avoid having to impose lockdowns on prisons over and over again.
The SOPs announced last October include swabbing and quarantining detainees for 14 days before they are moved to jail blocks. Also, distancing is supposed to be practised in vehicles transporting detainees to court.
However, the requirements appear to have done little to curb the spread of Covd-19, with several prisons going under lockdown this year alone, including in Pahang, Johor, Perak, Melaka and Terengganu.
Most recently, the Tapah prison and its staff quarters went under another lockdown.
Visvanathan also said medical facilities in prisons and detention centres were inadequate and so were the number of trained personnel.
He alleged that the facilities were “basic and rudimentary” and urged the government to “seriously consider” improving them.
“I believe that even the Prisons Department would support us in this,” he said.
He said another simple short-term measure to curb the spread of Covid-19 was to equip prisons with teleconferencing facilities, adding that court hearings that did not require detainees to be present, such as case management, could be done through such facilities.