In 2013, the Commission adopted the issue on “Right to Health in Prison” as one out of its two thematic issues for 2014 in working towards ensuring that the conditions of confinement in the country are constitutional and consistent with health, safety, and human dignity in order to achieve a criminal justice system that respects individual rights.
The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health is a fundamental human right of every human being without discrimination. However, prisoners suffer a disproportionate burden of health problems as their health needs are often neglected.
An inevitable consequence of imprisonment is the loss of the right to liberty. Although deprivation of liberty often to a certain extent forms an impediment to the enjoyment of other rights too, this does not mean that the authorities are permitted to also deny those rights to prisoners.
It has also been accepted that prisoners are uniquely vulnerable members of society in that they are completely under the control of other people, i.e., at the mercy of their jailers. It is the prison officials who control the most basic human activities and concerns of prisoners, such as eating or sleeping, or even when they may perform their bodily functions. Even a prisoner’s access to medical facilities is controlled by the prison authorities.
The concept of the “right to health,” regardless of a person’s legal status, shall therefore be the guiding force in establishing adequate standards of health care for all, including prisoners, as prison health care in Malaysia is said to fall below acceptable minimum standards.
The Commission also notes that one of the key determinants of the performance of any organisation is its staff. In the case of the prisons, the challenges faced by the staff are very unique. They include an intimidating working environment, the need to deal with violence and perform arduous tasks, the maintenance of security and order inside prisons, as well as more general constraints affecting, in particular, the organisation of work, such as work schedules, long working hours and shifts.
Although there is ample research on the impact of the work environment on prison staff, there are only a few attempts that have been made to address these issues. The Commission takes the view that prison reforms must address the many problems currently affecting the prison system, including:
- Medical care in prison
- Mental health care in prison for both staff and inmates
- Prison conditions
- Working hours / schedule of prison staff
In order to identify the issues faced by both prison staff & inmates, the Commission is conducting a series of visits to prisons across Malaysia with the aim to compile first hand data and information to be included into a comprehensive report. The final outcome report will contain details on the Commission’s findings as well as recommendations to improve the health standards in prisons.