The Prisons Department says it is trying to ensure that our prisons do not turn into hopeless dungeons of incarceration where inmates suffer punishment in the name of rehabilitation.
Upon release, the department envisages these former inmates to be better human beings and citizens to serve the world outside and not return to crime.
By all accounts, the Malaysia Prisons Department is doing a decent job - at present, only 0.4 percent of the inmates are repeat offenders. The department is determined to bring that down to a zero.
Malaysia Has One of the Lowest Recidivist Rate
There is an urgency for these rehabilitation programmes to be effective. The existing prison population at the moment stands at 58,000 inmates. This is indeed worrying as this is 6,000 more above capacity. Worse, the number of inmates is expected to increase.
Director of the Prison Policy Division of the Malaysian Prison Department Datuk Abdul Aziz Abdul Razak says that although there will be newer prisons built, these would not be enough to cater to the influx of new inmates.
Aziz says rehabilitation programmes now are infused with cultural and religious values in mind. Most inmates are undergoing imprisonment for drugs offence and the numbers are increasing.
On the standards of the prisons in the country, Aziz said there are international standards which the Prisons Department adheres to.
We ask them to 'redha' (accept as fated) - it is a very critical period. We counsel them and tell them to make use of the time behind bars valuable - change themselves for the better
“We want to reduce the number of prisoners, to lower the expenditure of the government (in running prisons) and to make sure our staff are professional in handling prisons and prisoners.
“The basic platform is called human development programme. All inmates must undergo this programme – it is not an option – it is compulsory. They must attend this programme within the limited time – zero to two months,” explains Aziz.
He says that the immediate period upon entering prison is the most crucial as this is the time they "will make or make" themselves.
Aziz says they are advised to accept the fact that they are in prison and will be so for that period sentenced.
"We ask them to 'redha' (accept as fated) - it is a very critical period. We counsel them and tell them to make use of the time behind bars valuable - change themselves for the better," says Aziz.
During the initial phase one, the inmates are not only disciplined but also taught to restore discipline within themselves.
“In the next phase. they are conditioned to be more resilient and how to be a good citizen,” says Aziz.
The Prisons Department collaborates with the armed forces under the National Board of Strategies in a programme called Community Rehabilitation Programmes (CRP).
Aziz says that the Prisons Department prides itself for having one of the lower repeat offender rates even when compared to developed countries.
Although he says it is unlikely we will be able to emulate Netherlands where prisons become empty, he says that it is something he tries to strive for.
At present, being put in charge of policies means Aziz has his job cut out - which is to ensure that the tens of thousands of prisoners under the Prisons Department do get rehabilitated through education and skills training.
The Prisoner Who Made It Good in Malaysian Prison
Education and vocational training are much emphasised in the juvenile rehabilitation school s under the Prisons Department for the underaged. Aziz says this is because the authority realises that the age group is the most vulnerable and all necessary care is taken to ensure that underaged prisoners are also given love, albeit tough in some ways.
Aziz tells the story of one prisoner who is now doing his PhD behind bars while another who has put his engineering skills to go into pineapple farming. The latter who was imprisoned for CBT- criminal breach of trust, gained employment in a royal household upon release for his skills.
Aziz explains that being a prison officer is not for the faint-hearted.
"We strive to strike a balance - to discipline and rehabilitate inmates and hope they never return," says Aziz.