Johor Bahru Prison

Johor Bahru Prison

The Johor Bahru Prison (Penjara Johor Bahru), located in the state capital of Johore in Malaysia, was opened in 1883 to incarcerate criminals in the State, as well as those who revolted against the British colonial government. The prison, located on 4.5 acres (18,000 m²) of prime land in the city area, was served by three roads, namely, Jalan Ayer Molek, Jalan Gertak Merah, and Jalan Khalid Abdullah. On August 30, 2005, the prison was shifted to Kluang in Central Johore, due to the very acute space shortage.

The prison complex

The Johor Bahru Prison was designed by the then sultan, Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Abu Bakar ibni Almarhum Daeng Ibrahim, who visited the prisons in Shanghai and Osaka to study the physical condition and design of their prisons. The RM30,000 building contract was awarded to a prominent Chinese building contractor, Wong Ah Fook, on April 16, 1882.

The original built-in area was square (15,000 m²), with a capacity of 200 inmates. There were then only two accommodation blocks for inmates, two training workshops, a kitchen, a toilet block, a clinic and an administrative office.

With the pressing need to increase its capacity over the years, buildings were added, and existing ones, renovated. The number of accommodation blocks for inmates gradually increased to ten, with a capacity of 1,500 inmates. The number of training workshops had also increased to five. Added too, were additional facilities and amenities, which included a family visiting area, a counseling clinic, a welfare officer’s room, and a praying room (surau). The 4.5 acre (18,000 m²) compound, enclosed by a 20 feet (6 m) high wall, remained as it was in 1883. The area surrounding the prison had been fully developed, with staff quarters, occupying 9.4 acres (38,000 m²). Thus, every available space within the compound had to be fully utilized. Buildings were packed so close to each other, that one wonders whether fire regulations had being infringed. Even so, inmates had to be crammed up to seven or eight to a cell, when these were originally designed for three. It is, nevertheless, amazing that the prison could have lasted 122 years.

Caning punishment

Death sentences were not carried out at the prison. Remand inmates, who were sentenced to death by hanging, were sent to the main prison in Kuala Lumpur, the national capital. Caning, however, was carried out at the prison premises on Mondays and Thursdays.

Laws governing caning

The maximum number of strokes that a criminal can be subjected to, under Malaysian law, is 24 strokes. There are two kinds of canes used:

The thinner version is less damaging to the body, but is the more painful of the two. Caning exceeding five strokes, using the thicker cane, can lead to irreversible impotency and numbness below the hips. In view of the damaging effects of caning, Malaysian laws exempt the following categories of persons from caning:

  • Females;
  • Males exceeding 50 years of age;
  • Unhealthy and physically unfit persons, as certified by a medical practitioner; and
  • The mentally-disabled.

Caning procedure

On the day of caning, the prisoners undergo a medical examination, and then queue up, away from the caning area. Caning is supervised by the Johor Bahru Director of Prisons, a medical practitioner from the nearby government’s General Hospital (Hospital Sultanah Aminah), and a prison officer. Care is taken to ensure that punishment is not meted out to the wrong inmate. The Director of Prisons will read out the punishment to the prisoner concerned, and ask him to confirm it. He also makes sure that an appeal has not been filed, otherwise, the caning is postponed until the appeal has been heard.

The prisoner remains naked, after the medical examination, save for an apron tied to the waist. His hands and hips are strapped to an A-frame, and his head placed under a cross-beam, forcing him into a bending position. Prison wardens who perform the caning must be certified. Starting with RM1.00 a stroke, more than a decade ago, these wardens are now paid RM10.00 per stroke for their work.

In performing his duty, the warden is not to be hurried. There is a prison officer who does the counting, to prevent over-caning, but he does not determine the timing. The warden begins by holding the cane horizontally with two hands, above his head. Silence at the caning area is maintained. When he is ready, he releases his left hand, and swing the cane towards the buttock of the prisoner with all his might, not unlike the swing of a golfer’s club. To ensure maximum effectiveness, the warden must make sure that the end of the cane is in contact with the prisoner's buttock on impact. The cane is soaked in "Chlorox Bleach" to disinfect it. This also aggravates the pain to the prisoner.

A single stroke of cane causes bruising. But when the number of strokes exceeds five, raw flesh and bleeding may occur. The full punishment must be performed in one session. If the prisoner faints, or if the doctor certifies that he is unfit to carry on with the punishment, the caning is stopped, and an application is made to the court to convert the caning to a custodial sentence. Usually, one stroke of cane is equivalent to about five months of custodial sentence.

The cane is reusable. However, for HIV cases, special precautions are taken. A new cane is always used in the circumstances, and after using, it is destroyed by burning. The prison warden also wears a protective smock, gloves and eyewear, just in case the prisoner’s flesh and blood accidentally spills onto him.

After the caning, the prisoner is sent immediately to the in-house clinic, where ointment is applied to the wounds. The patients are "hospitalized" until they recover sufficiently, as they have to lie down on their bellies until the wounds heal.

General Yamashita Well

This historical well was built at the time the prison was constructed in 1883 as a source of drinking water. According to accounts narrated by ex-staff of the prison, the well was used as an execution ground by General Tomoyuki Yamashita, during the Japanese occupation during World War II. It is popularly believed to be haunted.


After the prison was shifted to Kluang, the Prison Authorities organized an "open house" and exhibit from September 1 to December 15, 2005 at the Johor Bahru Prison. The objective of the exhibition was to create public awareness of the conditions of life within the prison, via a talk, a video show, a caning demonstration, and an opportunity to see the prison facilities, first hand. Entry tickets were charged at RM5.00 for adults and RM2.00 for children (7-17 years old).


  • Exhibition Brochure published by Penjara Johor Bahru, and information from the video and demo presentation (September 6, 2005).

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