The Community Rehabilitation Programme is a collaborative initiative of the Malaysian Prison Department and the Armed Forces of Malaysia under the National Blue Ocean Strategy that focuses in addressing prison overcrowding in the country by means of transferring and reforming prisoners eligible for early release in community rehabilitation centers that are built on idle lands of military camps in just six months.
Background and Problem
Prisons around the globe have a certain distinction that mirrors a society’s approach to criminals. There are the restorative prisons, such as the ones found in Norway, Netherlands, and Germany, which follow humane, international standards for the treatment of prisoners, and then there are the less reformative and [arguably] more punitive prisons as portrayed by sardine-packed cells and unhygienic facilities which feed more to the violent culture inside these institutions and dilute aspirations for conversion and second lease at life of convicts.
In Malaysia, the latter speaks so much about the state of prisons and the living conditions of inmates. With over 50,000 prisoners serving jail terms all over the country, it was estimated that 20 out of the 30 state prisons are congested. In Pengkalan Chepa Prison, for example, the 2,900 inmates in the institution far outnumber the 1,500-people capacity of the place. The issue of overcrowding of prisons has slowly gained attention in recent years, and the ministry has already taken rehabilitation interventions and other related actions to address the problem.
Solution and Impact
To counter the growing problem of prison overcrowding and the corresponding demand to build more prisons, the Malaysian government improvised the Community Rehabilitation Programme (CRP) under its National Blue Ocean Strategy (NBOS), all the while bearing in mind other important considerations such as reducing repeat-offenders (reducing recidivists), increasing job opportunities for inmates, improving living conditions of inmates, and guiding inmates for strategic reintegration into society. As with other initiatives under NBOS, the CRP adopts an out-of-the-box approach in developing a solution to prison overcrowding.
Through collaborative work between the Malaysian armed forces and other agencies, the project targets prisoners eligible for early release or offenders under supervision (ODS) as beneficiaries of the CRP; these ODS will be reformed in community in rehabilitation centers set up in idle lands of military camps. Camps hosting the centers are Mahkota Kluang Camp in Johor, Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah Camp in Alor Setar, Kedah; Syed Sirajudin Camp in Gemas, Negri Sembilan; Desa Pahlawan Camp in Kota Baru, Kelantan; Batu 10 Camp in Kuantan, Pahang and Paradise Camp in Kota Belud, Sabah.
Put together, they can accommodate 1,650 ODS. With the community rehabilitation centers in place, the CRP offered high-value vocational training to ODS in the areas of agriculture and fisheries, automotive, electrical, food preparation, and reflexology to arm them with skills that will make them employable and will prevent them from returning to a life of crime. There are also other programs offered related to religious and spiritual growth, family counseling, sports, and culture. All centers comply with international standards as set by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 10 (3) and the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rules 65-66. A total of 8,200 ODS have been released through the CRP since it began in 2011. Malaysia Prisons Department statistics suggest that overall, about 9% of prisoners in Malaysia were repeat-offenders, but through the program, this has been reduced to 0.3%.
The CRP also performed well in terms of increasing job opportunities for ODS given that 89.94% of inmates who were beneficiaries of the program become employed and self-employed. Even in terms of time and cost benefits, the CRP proves to be worthy because it is time-efficient and economical. A prison with a 1,700-person capacity requires RM 250-300 million for construction and need five years to be built. With CRP, the project proponents do not need to purchase land and set up centers only require about RM 30 million which may be built in six months, allowing them to save up to 85% in construction expenses.
The first community rehabilitation center of the CRP was set up in Mahkota Camp in Johor in 2011. Shortly thereafter, five more camps were built with similar functions and another one is being considered to be set up in Sarawak. Malaysia continues to be at the forefront of prisoner rehabilitation through the CRP. As one of the countries with the lowest recidivism rates in the world, it has gained international interests from other countries such as Fiji. There have also been learning excursions conducted with various international delegates to help them understand this Malaysian model of prisoner rehabilitation.