About Prisons in Singapore:

This is a website that aims to provide information about prison conditions and prisoners’ rights in Singapore. Our aim is to inform inmates, their families and friends about prison life and what to expect when someone is sentenced to prison, given the lack of such information in the public space. This website is a work in progress. There is more to come! We strive to be as accurate as possible. Do give us your feedback. If you have stories about life in prison, do share them with us. This website provides general information only and nothing in this website is to be taken as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please consult a lawyer.

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Any feedback or experiences that you wish to share? Contact us!

Procedures

The Singapore Prison Service operates 5 prisons, including a women’s prison and a drug rehabilitation centre. The main prison is Changi Prison Complex. Those in remand are usually held at Cluster B, or Cluster A if they require medical or psychiatric assessment. On arrival at the prison, you will be strip searched, undergo medical checks which includes an x-ray, a blood test and have your fingerprints and photographs taken.

1. After you are sentenced by the judge, you can make a request to serve your prison term at a later date if you have valid reasons to do so. If not, you will be handcuffed and led to a detention centre, which is located at the basements of the Supreme Court and State Court buildings respectively.

2. You have to surrender all of your belongings to the officers at the detention centre. All items will be sealed and registered. You are advised to bring as little things as possible, except for some books which you can read during your time inside the prison. Your hands and feet will be cuffed. The feet cuffs are quite tight.

3. You will be strip searched and given a pair of t-shirt and shorts to wear while you wait in a cell for a prison van to pick you up to to go Changi Prison. Food will be provided to you if you are in the holding cell during breakfast, lunch or dinner time.

4. During the registration process at the detention centre, you will be asked a series of questions, including what religious festivals you celebrate, your diet and your sexuality. In particular, they will ask whether you are straight or gay.

5. When you arrive at the prison complex, you will once again be subjected to a strip search and a series of questions about your health, dietary preferences and your sexuality. For the strip search, you will have to remove all your clothes, squat down, and open your mouth and stick out your tongue.

6. Once you are registered, you will be given a medium-sized transparent container which contains a few sets of t shirts and shorts, a tooth paste, tooth brush, a plastic mug and a plastic spoon. These will be the only things you are allowed to have. You will then commence your sentence.

7. As part of the prison's proactive screening for Covid, all inmates are swabbed upon entry.

8. Upon completing their sentences, inmates are released usually between 11.30 am and 12.30 pm. If the release day falls on a Sunday or a public holiday, the inmate will be released on the previous day, which is a Saturday or the eve of a public holiday. There is a small waiting area outside Changi Prison (near bus stop number 97049) for friends and family.

Cell conditions

1. You will share a cell with a few other inmates. How many inmates you share it with will depend on the size of the cell. Most cells will house a minimum of 4 and multiple-occupancy cells can house a maximum of 18 people. There are no windows for you to look out of.

2. There are no beds or mattresses. You have to sleep on the floor and you will be issued with a straw mat. It may be difficult to get used to sleeping on a hard floor during the first few nights. Many inmates use the extra sets of clothes given to them to cushion their backs and backsides so it is more comfortable.

3. The toilet is in the cell with a low wall to separate it from the rest of the cell.

4. Meals will be served to you through a sliding shaft at the bottom of the door. Breakfast is usually bread with butter or jam and coffee or tea. Lunch is usually Chinese vegetarian food, or rice with fishcake and vegetables. Dinner is usually local Malay/Indian food.

5. There are no fans in the cell. The only form of ventilation comes from a shaft above the door of the cell. As such, most male inmates will be shirtless while in the cell. You will not be issued with any underwear. The only time you need to wear a t-shirt is during the ‘master check’ which happens three times a day.

6. There are also no clocks and no way to tell time. You only know the time of the day when meals are served and when lights in the cell are switched on and off.

7. Every cell has a CCTV camera installed inside. You have to assume your movements are being watched all the time.

8. You are not allowed any personal possessions. You may be allowed to read the books you have brought in or which your family has given to prison authorities to pass to you, but these books will be screened and will usually take between 7 to 14 working days before you can read them. Only soft cover books are allowed, of no more than one inch thickness only.

9. If you require medical attention, you can request to see a doctor. The prison clinic operates during office hours, but there is an on-call doctor after office hours to deal with emergencies.

10. For cases where sustained medical attention is needed, the inmate will be transferred to the medical facility within the prison. More serious cases are transferred to Changi General Hospital.

Yard time and recreation

Inmates spend 23 hours in the cell and are allowed 1 hour of yard time everyday, excluding Sundays. From what we understand, inmates are allowed to watch television, read magazines and newspapers 3 times a week. Not all news is available. Ex inmates have told us that certain news articles which prison authorities don’t want you to read will be removed. Indoor yard time where you can play sports and exercise is twice a week.

Yard time has been described as rather laidback. Facilities for basketball and sepak takraw are made available. You can also trade books and magazines that you have read with other inmates.

There is no yard time during the Covid-19 pandemic. You will be confined for 24 hours for two weeks. Instead, you will be given books provided by the prisons and games like Chinese/Western chess.

Email and Communications

Inmates will be given a tablet for a few hours each day which they can use to write e-letters and play games only. You cannot surf the internet with this tablet. 1 tablet per cell is given, which means you have to share it with whoever is in the cell with you. All e-letters will be read by the prison authorities first before you can send them out. Inmates normally gain access to the tablet after one week in prison.

Through the tablet, there is no limit to the amount of e-letters that can be received by an inmate. Inmates can send up to 4 e-letters a month. All letters will be screened by prison authorities. Those who wish to access the service may do so here: https://eservice.sps.gov.sg/eletters/#/landing

Inmates may receive an unlimited number of physical letters, but can only send up to two letters a month.

Letters should contain the following information:
(a) Name of inmate
(b) Inmate No:

Visits

Most inmates are allowed visits after their first month of stay. They are allowed a maximum of 2 visits per month, with a maximum of 1 face-to-face visit. For more information on prison visits, go to https://www.sps.gov.sg/connect-us

Work in Prison

You are usually not allowed to work in the first 6 months of your sentence. You can apply for work, but such opportunities are limited, depending on what’s available. If you work, you will be paid a small amount each week. Your earnings can only be used to buy food and other items within the prison, and these are usually items in the vending machine.

Study in Prison
Inmates can sit for the 'O' or 'A' Level examinations at the Tanah Merah Prison School. Inmates may also pursue a Diploma in Business Practice. Admission is based on the inmates' academic qualifications, their conduct in prison, as well as recommendations from supervisors.

Reduction of Sentence
For sentences longer than one month, you may receive one third reduction of your sentence. Time served in prison while on remand will be set against your sentence. This means that if you were in remand for 1 month, any sentence will take this one month you served into consideration.


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Procedures

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Cell conditions

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Yard time and recreation

Punishment

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Procedures

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Cell conditions

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Yard time and recreation

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Procedures

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Cell conditions

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Yard time and recreation

Punishment

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Prisoners' rights

Notwithstanding personal anecdotes and prison practices that are found elsewhere in this website, the following is a non-exhaustive list of rights that prisoners are entitled to under Singapore law.

1. Every prisoner must be provided with regular meals that are nutritious enough for the basic health of the prisoner. For more information about the type of food prisoners receive, see Cell Conditions.

2. For prisoners who are sick, they should be set apart in a proper room, or infirmary.

3. All prisoners will be able to exercise in the open air to the extent necessary for their health. However, such exercise will be carried out in a way that prevents communication between prisoners. In practical terms, this usually means that every prisoner is entitled to 1 hour of yard time daily.

4. Prisoners cannot be made to work more than 8 hours in a day.

5. Prisoners are not required to work after 9.45 am on a Saturday, Sunday or public holiday.

6. A prisoner's lawyer may visit him during working days (and working hours). A prisoner can also write letters to and receive letters from his lawyer.

7. Every prisoner who has a complaint may make one to the Chief Rehabilitation Officer (CRO), who is the chief resident discipline officer in the prison. The CRO should then take steps to address the complaint, or refer the complaint to the Superintendent.

8. A prisoner can be confined in a cell for breaching prison regulations. However, he should not be confined for more than 90 days in a year. If a prisoner is sentence to two periods of confinement, one after another, there must be a break between the two sentences. The duration of the break must be equal to, or longer than, the longer sentence period.

9. A prison officer cannot use a restraint on a prisoner unless it is necessary to prevent the inmate from causing self‑injury, injuring others, or escaping. The use of the restraint must be removed once it is no longer necessary. The type of restraint and the manner that the restraint is used, must be approved under the Prison Standing Orders.

10. A prisoner cannot be punished until he has been given a chance to hear the charges and evidence against him, and to defend himself.

11. If the Superintendent has ordered a prisoner to undergo corporal punishment for an aggravated prison offence, an Institutional Discipline Advisory Committee must decide whether the punishment imposed on the prisoner is excessive. A list of 'aggravated prison offences' are found here.

12. A prisoner cannot be punished until he has had an opportunity of hearing the charge and evidence against him. He should also be allowed to make his defence.

Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners

The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, otherwise known as the Nelson Mandela Rules, were initially adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1955, and updated in 2015. Here, we set out (and have simplified!) key provisions found in the Rules. Click here for the full set of Rules.

1. Where sleeping accommodation is in individual cells or rooms, each prisoner shall occupy by night a cell or room by himself or herself. If for special reasons, such as temporary overcrowding, it becomes necessary for the prison to make an exception to this rule, it is not desirable to have two prisoners in a cell or room.

2. All accommodation shall meet all requirements of health. Climate conditions and minimum floor space, lighting, heating and ventilation shall be considered.

3. The toilet facilities in the cell shall be adequate enough to comply with prisoners' needs of nature when necessary, and in a clean and decent manner.

4. Every prisoner shall be provided with a separate bed and with separate and sufficient bedding. The bedding should be clean when given to the prisoner, and changed often enough to ensure its cleanliness.

5. Every prisoner shall be provided food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength. The food should also be of wholesome quality and well prepared and served.

6. Every prisoner who is not employed in outdoor work shall have at least one hour of suitable exercise in the open air daily if the weather permits.

7. Prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community, and should have access to health-care services free of charge regardless of their legal status.

8. In women’s prisons, there shall be special accommodation for all necessary prenatal and postnatal care and treatment. Arrangements shall be made wherever practicable for children to be born in a hospital outside the prison. If a child is born in prison, this fact shall not be mentioned in the birth certificate.

9. A physician or healthcare professional shall examine every
prisoner as soon as possible when they are admitted, and whenever necessary. In particular, the physician or healthcare professional shall identify the healthcare needs of the prisoner, any signs of psychological or other stress, any ill-treatment prior to admission, contagious diseases, and fitness to work.

10. The physician should inform the prison director if they feel that a prisoner’s physical or mental health has been or will be negatively affected by continued imprisonment or by of the prison conditions.

11. If health care professionals become aware of any signs of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, they shall document and report such cases to the competent medical, administrative or judicial authority. Proper procedural safeguards shall be followed in order not to expose the prisoner or associated persons to foreseeable risk of harm.

12. Prison administrations are encouraged to use, to the extent possible, conflict prevention, mediation or any other alternative dispute resolution mechanism to prevent disciplinary offences or to resolve conflicts.

13. No prisoner shall be punished except in accordance with the principles of fairness and due process. A prisoner shall never be punished twice for the same act or offence.

14. Prison administrations shall that a punishment is proportional to the offence. They should also keep a proper record of all punishments imposed.

15. Any allegation of disciplinary offence shall be reported and investigated without delay. Prisoners shall be informed, without delay and in a language that they understand, of the nature of any accusations against them and shall be given the chance to prepare their defence.

16. Prisoners shall be allowed to defend themselves against any disciplinary offence. If the prisoners do not understand or speak the
language used at a disciplinary hearing, they shall be assisted by an interpreter free of charge. Prisoners shall have an opportunity to seek judicial review of disciplinary sanctions imposed against them.

17. Restrictions or disciplinary sanctions amount to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment shall be prohibited, in particular:
(a) Indefinite solitary confinement;
(b) Prolonged solitary confinement;
(c) Placement of a prisoner in a dark or constantly lit cell;
(d) Corporal punishment or the reduction of a prisoner’s diet or drinking water;
(e) Collective punishment.

18. Solitary confinement shall be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort, for as short a time as possible and subject to independent review, and be authorised by a competent authority.

19. Searches shall not be used to harass, intimidate or unnecessarily intrude upon a prisoner’s privacy. For the purpose of accountability, the prison administration shall keep appropriate records of searches, in particular strip and body cavity searches and searches of cells, as well as the reasons for the searches, the identities of those who conducted them and any results of the searches.

20. Intrusive searches, including strip and body cavity searches, should be
undertaken only if absolutely necessary. Prison administrations shall be encouraged to develop and use appropriate alternatives to intrusive searches.

21. Upon admission, every prisoner shall be provided with written information about:
(a) The prison law and applicable prison regulations;
(b) Their rights, including authorized methods of seeking information,
access to legal advice, including through legal aid schemes, and procedures for making requests or complaints; and
(c) His or her obligations, including applicable disciplinary sanctions.

22. Every prisoner shall have the opportunity each day to make requests or complaints. Every request or complaint shall be promptly dealt with and replied to without delay. If the request or complaint is rejected, or in the event of undue delay, the prisoner shall be entitled to bring it before a judicial authority. Safeguards shall be in place to ensure that prisoners can make requests or complaints safely and in a confidential manner.

23. Prisoners shall be allowed, under necessary supervision, to communicate with their family and friends at regular intervals.

24. Prisoners shall be able to be visited by and to communicate and consult with a legal adviser of their own choice. Prisoners should have access to effective legal aid.

25. Every prison shall have a library for the use of all categories of prisoners, adequately stocked with both recreational and instructional books, and prisoners shall be encouraged to make full use of it.

In this section, we collect news articles related to the prison system in Singapore, and publish commentaries written by us, or by contributors.

Apex court: Prison officials not allowed to forward copies of inmates' documents to AGC
Summary: The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Singapore Prisons Service is not allowed to forward copies of inmates' documents to the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC). Instead, the AGC should get permission from the prisoner, or apply to court, if it wants the documents.

New mobile app ups the game in training Singapore prison officers
Summary: A new mobile app is created to train prison officers.

State Courts apologises after man served 2 extra days in jail due to error
Summary: A man erroneously served 2 extra days in prison as part of a default sentence, after the State Courts' case management system did not reflect that he had paid a fine, in addition to a seven-week prison sentence that he was given.

Commentary: What do the actions of SPS and the AGC tell us?
We share our thoughts on the news that SPS had forwarded to the AGC correspondence between a death-row inmate and his family and lawyers.

WTC Long Read: A mother’s concerns in a time of POFMA
Kirsten Han tells the story of a mother's challenge in seeking accountability as regards her incarcerated son's allegations of abuse by prison officials.

Caning

The information in this section is written based on publicly available information, and personal anecdotes told to us. If you spot any inaccuracies, please let us know.  

1. Caning in Singapore is applicable to males between the ages of 10 and 50, provided they are medically fit. Only the High Court can sentence a boy below the age of 16 (a juvenile) to caning. The maximum number of strokes that an adult can be subject to is 24, and 10 for a juvenile. In the case of an adult, the rattan may not be more than 1.27cm in diameter. A lighter rattan is used for a juvenile. However, the law does not specify the maximum dimensions for the lighter rattan to be used. 

2. Inmates who have been sentenced to caning are not told when they will be caned. This information is made known to them on the day that they will be caned. A medical check-up is done to ascertain whether the inmate is medically fit for caning. 

3. On the day of caning, the inmates to be caned are lined up outside the room where the caning takes place. Present in the room are the inmate who is being caned, the person carrying out the caning, a medical doctor, and the person who is next in line to be caned. 

4. Inmates who are sentenced to the highest number of strokes (i.e. 24 strokes) go first, followed by inmates who have been sentenced to a lesser number of strokes, in decreasing order. All strokes of a cane that an inmate is sentenced to, is meted out all at once. If the caning is stopped as the inmate if deemed medically unfit to carry on with the caning, the offender may be given up to 12 months of imprisonment in place of the unfinished strokes. 

5. The person who is carrying out the caning is only allowed to mete out 6 strokes at a time. In other words, if you are subject to 24 strokes, there will be 4 caners carrying out the caning. We have been informed that this is to preserve the strength of the strokes during the caning process. 

6. During caning, the inmate is bent over an A-shaped frame, with his hands and feet bound. An "apron" is wrapped around the lower back of the inmate, to protect his kidneys and spine from strokes that are off-target. The buttocks are exposed. 

7. Once the caning has been completed, the medical officer applies an antiseptic to the wounds. We understand that no further medical attention is given to the wounds unless it is medically necessary e.g. the wounds have become infected or if there is pus. We have been informed that it normally takes weeks for the wounds to heal. During this time, the inmate is unable to lie on his back or sit down. We have been informed that there are inmates who have been caned that still face kidney and urinary problems despite the protection that is given. 

8. An inmate may also be sentenced to caning if you have committed an aggravated offence while in prison. In this instance, an inmate cannot be sentenced to more than 12 strokes. The Commissioner of Prisons must approve this punishment before it is carried out.

It has come to light that the Singapore Prisons Service (SPS) has disclosed correspondence between Syed Suhail and his uncle (4 letters) and him and his lawyer (1 letter) to the AGC sometime in 2018, when his case was still before the Court of Appeal.

Correspondence between a person and their lawyer is privileged. Correspondence between a person and their family is not privileged, but it is personal, and private. As many have already pointed out, our laws do allow the SPS to open, read and make copies of letters sent by prisoners. It clearly also states that the same does not apply to correspondence between an inmate and his lawyer, presumably on the basis of the lawyer-client privilege I mentioned earlier. In another judgment, the Court of Appeal has also stated that the SPS is not allowed to forward inmates’ documents to the AGC. So, it’s possible that SPS may have done something illegal, but that’s for the courts to decide. There have also been justified calls for independent inquiry commissions to look into the practices of SPS.

But I’m not here to discuss laws and legality. Rather, I’d like to talk about attitudes. What struck me was the sheer callousness of the administration when the letters were forwarded by SPS to the AGC. There was a clear display of apathy towards the rights and privacy of these individuals. Their actions almost seem to say: These are people who are condemned; we can treat them as lesser individuals. Why do we need to protect them as citizens, or as people? Why accord them dignity, when the state has deemed them unworthy of being part of our society?

The death penalty is the most egregious form of punishment that the state can mete out onto anyone. Processes relating to individuals who face the death penalty must, therefore, be treated with the highest levels of care, and with a view that the rights of these individuals must be left intact. Institutions should not flex their power over individuals who are at their mercy.

It is of course entirely plausible that this practice is being done to non-death row inmates, but we’ve only had (public) knowledge of this being done to two prisoners thus far, both of whom were facing execution. And that informs the parameters of this post.

The death penalty must go – not least in part because it has shown that sanctioning the killing of an individual under the guise ‘protecting’ our society, erodes away at our humanity. If we kill a human being for his actions on the justification that his actions were dangerous to the community, and in the process, strip away his rights and dignity, are we really better off? It is alarming that our institutions are acting as though they have unbridled power, and with impunity, in instances where the death penalty is concerned. Our institutions must do better – they exist to protect our rights, not pillage them.

Drug Rehabilitation Centres

1. Anyone who is "reasonably suspected" to be a drug addict and who fails a urine / hair test, can be placed in a Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC).

2. While awaiting the results of the urine / hair test, you are placed in a separate part of Changi Prison. We understand that 2 tests are administered to confirm the existence of drugs in the person's system. While you are waiting for the test results, you are placed in a cell in Changi Prison. It usually take about a week for the test results to be returned. The test is conducted by the Health Sciences Authority.

3. While awaiting the test results, you are placed in a "medical cell". We have been informed that the lights are switched on all the time. There are usually about 7-8 people in a "medical" cell at any one time.

4. The Misuse of Drugs Act states that every person must be detained at a DRC for a period of 12 months. However, depending on intervention programmes that the detainee is placed in, many do not stay at the DRC for 12 months. The maximum period of detention in a DRC is 4 years.

5. After completing the intervention programme, inmates are then rehabilitated back into the community. There are three schemes:
(a) The residential scheme allows offenders to stay at home. However, they have to observe a curfew and wear an electronic monitoring device. They are also required to work or study during the day.
(b) The second scheme allows detainees to work and study during the day before returning to the Lloyd Leas Supervision Centre in the evening.
(c) Offenders under the third scheme undergo a structured programme while residing in a halfway house.

6. It has been told to us that when an inmate is administered medicine, there is usually a raid within that cell to ensure that the medicine is not abused by other members of the cell. Sometimes, dogs are brought in for the raid.