nianwar1_Uladzimir Zuyeu_getty images_prison wire Uladzimir Zuyey/Getty Images

Solving the Prison Dilemma of COVID-19

Congested prisons with poor sanitation and overstretched medical facilities are hotbeds of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Policymakers in Malaysia and elsewhere should couple immediate prisoner releases to reduce overcrowding with coordinated training and support programs to prevent recidivism.

KUALA LUMPUR – Few good things will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has now killed more than 2.2 million people worldwide. But one possible silver lining could be serious prison reform – including in Malaysia.

In September 2020, an initially small COVID-19 cluster, centered around the Lahad Datu police headquarters and Tawau prison on the island of Borneo, quickly exploded into the biggest cluster of Malaysia’s second COVID-19 wave, infecting 1,146 people. And in the current third wave, at least 23 of the country’s prisons have reported a disproportionately high rate of COVID-19 infections.

As of December 2020, 1,160 of Malaysia’s 66,791 prisoners were infected, along with 125 prison staff and family members. By the first week of 2021, Malaysia’s overall caseload had doubled, with new prison clusters occasionally accounting for up to 20% of daily new cases.