Sunday, February 10, 2008

In Kajang Prison only 300 teenagers languish waiting YEARS for their day in court...

When they are found to be not guilty and released - what will the future of these teenagers... one of them has been there in prison since he was 16 years old- now he is 19.(Remember that these are not convicted persons)

And what about their EDUCATION - taught by other prisoners ....???? They should be in school getting their requisite education .... education certificate ...and maybe even heading on to the universities BUT their luck has ended them up in prison ---- "awaiting their day in court"..

I am of the position that even for those convicted and serving out their sentences (irrespective of whether they are youths or otherwise), they must be provided every opportunity to continue their education so that when they do come out after serving their sentence, they would be better persons ...

The statistics are only about Kajang Prisons - what about the other prisons in Malaysia??

Young, forgotten and behind prison walls

Sunday, 10 February 2008 08:13am
Group counselling at Kajang Prison. More counsellors are needed, say activists.
Group counselling at Kajang Prison. More counsellors are needed, say activists.

©New Sunday Times
by Yong Huey Jiun

Hundreds of teenagers are stuck in prison as they await their day in court. Activists tell Yong Huey Jiun why they should be in a more conducive environment

THE teenager replies to each question clearly, making eye contact only when necessary. When asked how long he has been held in Kajang Prison, he lowers his voice to almost a whisper: “Since I was 16.”

Nineteen-year-old Krishna is one of 300 juveniles remanded in Kajang Prison.

Only those between 18 and 21 can be jailed in Kajang. Children under 18 are sent to a Henry Gurney School or other approved schools after sentencing.

In 2002, there were fewer than 100 juveniles remanded in Kajang Prison.

But there are three times as many there now, in spite of lawmakers and civil servants stepping up efforts to keep juveniles out of prison.

Last year, the media highlighted the issue of minors languishing in jails as they awaited trial (which is most of them) or to be produced before a magistrate.

In March last year, the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development set up a task force to tackle the problem.

When Malaysia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and passed the Child Act 2001, we seemed to be heading in the right direction. However, lack of enforcement threatens to derail any progress.

The act forbids jailing of children under 14. Even children above 14 should not be in prison “if they can be suitably dealt with” through probation, a fine or compensation. In other words, a jail term should be the last resort.

However, in practice, some juveniles may be remanded in prison for years awaiting trial.

“There must be political will to ensure that these (children’s) cases are given the priority they deserve,” says Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) Commissioner Dr Chiam Heng Keng. She notes that some of these cases have even been forgotten with the juveniles remaining in jail for up to four years.

But the number continues to rise because “there is no proper appreciation of the problems of juveniles", says Ragunath Kesavan, vice-president of the Malaysian Bar Council. Most of their families are too poor to afford bail.

The legal process is slow and although there are courts for children, juveniles have to compete with adults for time in the same courtroom.

Shelter Home for Children executive director James Nayagam urges fast tracking of children’s cases.

Although the juveniles are separated from adults in Kajang Prison, Nayagam recommends special detention centres to be built for rehabilitation from the start. After all, the CRC is based upon rehabilitation, not punishment.

Equally vexing is the lack of co-ordination between enforcement agencies and the Welfare Department. Very often, the probation officers are not informed early.

“Probation officers must be informed immediately upon the arrest of the suspect, not later,” says Nayagam.

Sometimes, families are not informed because the detainees do not want their parents to know they are in prison.

Nayagam says as many as 80 per cent of the juvenile offenders come from families with a history of child abuse. All parties must take such factors into account when dealing with cases involving minors.

“Judges must exercise discretion in their decision-making,” says Kesavan.

For example, rather than setting bail, the judges could free them on a personal bond, especially for petty crimes.

“RM1,000 can be a lot for a family with five other mouths waiting to be fed,” says Ranjit Singh, deputy superintendent at Kajang Prison.

Kesavan says the purpose of bail is to secure attendance in court. It is not meant to be a fine.

Access to education is, perhaps, the biggest concern for the juveniles behind these brick walls.

Rows of plastic chairs and tables are lined up neatly in the classrooms, with those in attendance listening in rapt attention to the lesson of the day, not the least bit different from your everyday classroom in school. The difference is, however, the students are taught by their own kind.

“Graduate prisoners” have stepped up to the challenge of overcoming the shortage of teachers by sharing their knowledge with their fellow inmates.

“Some of them are engineers and accountants who are overseas graduates. Anyway, the juveniles can’t be doing nothing. Their mind needs to be actively engaged,” explains Ranjit.

A desperate measure it may be, but nevertheless resourceful.

Next week, the Prisons Department plans to ask the Public Service Department to provide teaching staff through the Ministry of Education.

Aside from the prisoners’ own initiative, non-governmental organisations like Shelter volunteer on a regular basis.

But parents are not always supportive of these efforts. Ranjit says parents fail to follow up with their children once they leave.

“This is after we have invested time, energy and sometimes even money on the child. We hold classes for them and pay for their exam fees but they don’t turn up for the exam.”

Kesavan also stresses the importance of including counselling, motivation, career guidance and skills training in the education content.

Combating illiteracy is not the panacea to social problems. Ultimately, they need to learn skills to survive in the real world.

There are two trained counsellors for about 600 inmates in Kajang Prison. In addition to having more trained counsellors, Suhakam suggests regular checks on child detainees as spelled out under Section 97 (4) of the Child Act.

But the top priority for experts such as Chiam is that juveniles be kept out of prison as far as possible and their court cases processed as fast as possible.

Meanwhile, Ranjit is satisfied with Krishna’s progress. It seems hard to believe that the shy teenager once resisted authority.

“He fought often when he first came in but now he’s a good boy,” says Ranjit.

Although Krishna has waited for more than three years, he remains hopeful.

“I can’t wait to start over. I am looking forward to be free again.”

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