Home Minister: No plans to privatise prisons, Putrajaya considering land swaps for new facilities instead

Malaysia does not plan to introduce the privatisation of prisons.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail (main image) instead said his ministry is focused on upgrading and redeveloping existing prisons in the country using various models, including entering into land swap deals with third parties.

Criminologist, Associate Professor (Honorary) Datuk Dr P. Sundramoorthy, had mooted the idea for private parties to obtain concessions to build, own, and operate the facilities – similar to the concept of building expressways or reclaiming land.

Sundramoorthy said the idea of privately developing and operating prisons was not new, nor unique, and that such prisons existed in the United States, Australia, France, and New Zealand.

He had also, among others, said that private resources can also help meet challenges posed by an ageing prison infrastructure, and reduce the financial burden on the government.

“At this point, I do not intend to explore this (privatisation of prisons) idea. There have also not been any pilot projects on this,” Saifuddin told Twentytwo13.

“Some of our prisons are located in strategic areas. For example, the Penang Prison is located on the island. The Alor Setar Prison is located right in the heart of Alor Setar city (in Kedah).

“What I mean by redevelopment is, we will ask interested parties to build a new prison complex elsewhere in exchange for the land,” he said.

This, he added, was one of the options being discussed by the Public-Private Partnership Unit, under the Prime Minister’s Department.

“The government has very limited funds now. We are looking at all payment model options to facilitate the redevelopment of prisons,” he added.

Saifuddin stressed that the main thrust of the ministry was to address the issue of overcrowding in prisons. The Malaysian government currently spends RM450 per inmate, per month.

He said there were currently 74,000 offenders being held in prisons nationwide, compared to the prisons’ total capacity of 63,000 inmates.

“We have an excess of 11,000 detainees. But there are 18,500 of them who are serving a jail term of less than three years.

“Those serving lighter sentences should instead undergo other forms of punishment, including community correctional programmes, such as parole, and licensed prisoner release. This can be done by invoking Section 42 of the Prisons Act (1995),” Saifuddin said.

He added that an ideal modern prison model is one where two-thirds of offenders undergo community correctional programmes, while only one-third are detained behind bars.

“But we have not reached this level. It’s the other way around here,” he said.

He said alternative sentencing models have been explored since 2008 involving 70,000 detainees and 283 companies.

“Such programmes have helped in reducing the recidivism rate with only one in every 800 offenders returning to prison after being released.

“This is way less, compared to 400 offenders serving their full sentence, where 60 of them ended up back in prison,” he added.

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