Tuesday, July 31, 2007

RM80m to keep foreigners in jail for four months (NST)

RM80m to keep foreigners in jail for four months
By : Aniza Damis

KUALA LUMPUR: We are punishing them for entering the country illegally.

But it is costing us almost RM80 million to keep foreigners in prison for just a few months.

This is because each foreigner who is convicted of Immigration Act offences is sentenced to a few months in prison.

According to Prison Department figures, as of June 25, the number of foreigners in our prisons held for Immigration Act offences stood at 19,041. Of this, 10,089 are in remand. The remainder are serving their sentences.

(If a person is convicted, his time in remand is taken into account in the sentencing.)

The average sentence served is between three and five months.
Based on the department’s 2004 budget estimates, the cost of incarcerating one person in prison for one day is RM35.

Of this, RM3.80 goes towards feeding the prisoner.

If the median stay is four months, this translates into RM4,200 to punish an illegal immigrant for 120 days.

The figure soars when we factor in the 19,041 illegal immigrants currently serving time. The bill comes to RM79.98 million.

Although light sentences would not serve as a deterrent, the fact remains that heavy sentences weigh on our pockets.

The burden is only going to increase as the number of foreigners who enter the country gets bigger every year.

As of June 26 last year, there were only 12,042 foreigners in prison for immigration offences.

This year’s figure reflects a nearly 60 per cent increase in foreign illegals who were convicted.

While this year-on-year comparison may not capture the true nature of the turnover rate of prison populations, it suggests that the overall annual number of illegals convicted may be higher.

Last year, Rela nabbed 25,045 illegal immigrants.

This year, in the first quarter alone, it arrested 9,691 illegals.

Last October, Rela director-general Datuk Zaidun Asmuni estimated that of the 1.8 million migrant workers here, nearly 500,000 might have overstayed, have expired work permits or entered the country illegally.

And, according to the Immigration Department, between last September and April 30, out of the 36,701 visas-on-arrival issued, 20,481 were abused.

The true cost is higher as they make up nearly 40 per cent of the total number of people being detained in the Prison Department’s 47 prisons and other detention centres nationwide.

As of July 6, there were 50,429 people in detention.

Given that these prisons and institutions were designed for an ideal capacity of 38,750, this means an overflow of 11,679 prisoners and detainees.

More than 23,000 are foreigners. In 1995, the number of foreign inmates was just 6,077.

To deal with the problem of overcrowding in prisons, the Eighth and Ninth Malaysia Plans approved 16 new penitentiaries. Construction has begun on six, of which only two will be ready this year.

The parole system, whose bill was supposed to have been tabled in parliament this session, is also meant to alleviate the problem of overcrowding.

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