Parliamentary Speeches

Second Reading of Prisons (Amendment) Bill - Speech by Assoc Prof Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development

Published: 11 January 2022

1.   Mr Speaker, on behalf of the Minister for Home Affairs, I beg to move, “That the Bill be now read a second time.”


2.   Sir, this Bill amends the Prisons Act to enhance community corrections by introducing the Employment Preparation Scheme, or EmPS, and to facilitate the operations and administration of the Singapore Prison Service (SPS).

Enhancing Community Corrections

3.   First, on enhancing community corrections.

4.   The period of incarceration is an opportunity to rehabilitate offenders, to minimise the possibility of re-offending after release. In my visits to the prisons and engagements with inmates and ex-offenders, I have come to see that rehabilitation, with strong community and family support, can be an effective means to prevent re-offending. This in turn, enhances public safety.

5.   SPS rehabilitates and prepares inmates for reintegration into society by providing programmes in prison to address their re-offending risks and needs, and equip them with relevant knowledge and skills. These programmes include psychology-based correctional programmes, family programmes, work programmes, skills training, and religious programmes.

Expansion of Community Corrections

6.   As Members may know, rehabilitation in prison alone is not enough. Research has shown that inmates will have better rehabilitation outcomes when rehabilitation in prison is complemented by community-based programmes. These programmes allow inmates to be closely supervised and supported while they apply the skills that they had learnt in prison.

7.   Over the years, SPS has expanded community corrections:

a.   In 1985, the Prisons Act was amended to introduce the Work Release Scheme (WRS). WRS allows inmates to work outside prison, under supervision, at the tail-end of their imprisonment sentence.

b.   In year 2000, the Prisons Act was amended to provide for the Home Detention Scheme (HDS), which allows eligible inmates to serve the tail-end of their imprisonment sentence outside prison, such as at their residence. The intent is to facilitate their reintegration into society under strict conditions.

c.   The Prisons Act was amended in 2014 to introduce the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme (MAS). The MAS provides enhanced community support, counselling and case management, with tight supervision, to released inmates who are at a higher risk of re-offending or need more reintegration support. While on this scheme, supervisees need to comply with conditions such as curfew hours and electronic monitoring.

8.   There have also been shifts in the drug rehabilitation regime. In 2019, a more calibrated approach was introduced for drug abusers, to distinguish between abusers who have only consumed drugs, and those who have concurrently committed other criminal offences. Prior to this policy change, drug abusers arrested for the third time onwards would be sentenced to imprisonment. Since 2019, such abusers who do not face any other concurrent criminal charge will instead undergo rehabilitation in the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) run by SPS. As part of the DRC regime, suitable abusers can progress to be placed on community-based programmes.

9.   With the implementation of these programmes, the number of inmates and ex-offenders on community corrections has increased over the years, from about 850 in 2011 to more than 3,400 in 2021.

10.   The improvement in recidivism bears testimony to our rehabilitation and reintegration efforts. The two-year recidivism rate for inmates released in 2018 was 22%, down from 44% two decades ago. We have halved the recidivism rate.

11.   These results give us the confidence to introduce an improved work rehabilitation scheme, called the Employment Preparation Scheme (EmPS) to enhance inmates’ employability and reintegration.

Employment Preparation Scheme

12.   The EmPS will replace the existing WRS. From 2016 to 2020, 997 inmates were emplaced on the WRS, and 90% of them successfully completed the programme. The WRS only allows inmates to be released for work. Under the existing law, inmates on WRS are unable to participate in educational or training activities. The new EmPS will allow inmates to undergo skills training and education in the community.

13.   The EmPS will complement the work programmes and skills training provided by SPS and Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG) in prison.

14.   To provide for the EmPS, Clause 21 inserts a new Part 6B in the Prisons Act. Section 59K of the new Part 6B allows the Commissioner of Prisons to release eligible inmates on the EmPS. Clause 25 repeals section 81 of the Prisons Act, which provides for the WRS.

15.   The EmPS will adopt a step-down approach to gradually ease inmates back into the society:

a.   Emplacement starts with the in-camp phase where eligible and suitable inmates serve the tail-end of their imprisonment sentence in a work release centre administered by SPS. The inmates may work, upskill themselves through training, or pursue their education, outside prison during the day. They will return to reside at the work release centre in the evening.

b.   Inmates who show good progress during the in-camp phase will be permitted to move on to the weekend home leave phase, during which they can return to their place of residence during the weekends.

c.   If inmates continue to demonstrate good progress during the weekend home leave phase, they can return to their place of residence daily after work, classes, or training, under the long home leave phase.

16.   Inmates are eligible for the EmPS if they have served at least 14 days of imprisonment and the Commissioner considers them suitable for the EmPS. Factors such as their progress and response to rehabilitation, family support, and risk of re-offending will be considered. All eligible inmates will be assessed by SPS for their suitability. All suitable cases will then be surfaced to an independent advisory committee appointed by the Minister for Home Affairs, which will review the cases and make its recommendations to the Commissioner. Clause 26 of the Bill provides for the establishment, function, and procedure of this committee via regulations made pursuant to the Prisons Act.  The Commissioner, taking into consideration the committee’s recommendation, may then emplace an inmate on the EmPS.

17.   Inmates on the EmPS will be under SPS’s supervision and will receive support for their reintegration. Besides requiring the inmates to be employed, undergo skills training or education, inmates will be subjected to conditions such as electronic monitoring, mandatory reporting, and curfew hours.

18.   These EmPS conditions are similar to the existing conditions for the HDS and External Placement Scheme (EPS).

19.   We will also introduce additional conditions for the EmPS, HDS and EPS to better facilitate SPS’s administration of the schemes.

a.   First, Clauses 12, 17 and 21 insert two new conditions for inmates on the HDS, EPS and home leave phase of the EmPS. Specifically, inmates are not to:
i.   consume any controlled drug or alcoholic beverage, or use or inhale any intoxicating substance; or
ii.   possess any controlled drug.

b.   Second, Clause 26 allows the Minister for Home Affairs to prescribe via regulations, for inmates on these schemes to pay for the costs of goods and services incurred by them outside the prison, such as food, transport, and medical treatment. The cost of electronic monitoring would continue to be borne by SPS.

20.   Inmates on these schemes are required to abide by all stipulated conditions. Under Clause 21, if an inmate on the EmPS is suspected to have violated any condition or committed any offence, he may be recalled to prison pending SPS’s inquiry. If found to have breached any condition or committed any offence, the inmate may have his emplacement order revoked. Clauses 13, 14, 18 and 19 expand the scope of recall to prison and revocation of an emplacement order, to include the commission of any offence, not just prison offences, by inmates on the HDS or EPS. This is to deter inmates from re-offending and allow SPS to take swift action against inmates who commit any offence.

21.   If an inmate on the EmPS commits a prison offence, and he is punished with confinement in a punishment cell, or with forfeiture of his period of remission, or both, SPS will have discretion in suspending the inmate’s emplacement order. In contrast, it is mandatory under the current provisions for the HDS and EPS for SPS to suspend the inmate’s emplacement order and recall him to prison. This could be disruptive to the inmate’s reintegration, including his studies or work. Hence, Clauses 15 and 20 align the provisions for all three schemes such that it is discretionary, not mandatory, to suspend the emplacement orders. This will allow a more calibrated approach to be taken, based on the facts of the case.

22.   Next, Clauses 10, 12, 17 and 21 expand the means by which the Commissioner may notify persons on the MAS, HDS, EPS and EmPS, of changes to the conditions that they are subject to. Presently, the law requires a written notification of changes to the conditions. To enhance administrative flexibility and efficiency, alternative means using SMS and other digital communications, will be introduced and these will be prescribed via regulations made pursuant to the Prisons Act.

Facilitating SPS's Operations and Administration

23.   Next, I will speak about amendments facilitating SPS’s operations and administration.

Defer an Inmate’s Release by Up to Three Weeks to Carry Out Any Outstanding Court-ordered Punishment

24.   Today, inmates sentenced to imprisonment would generally be released after they have served two-thirds of their sentence, if they had displayed good conduct and behaviour in prison. When they are released, they will be issued with a Conditional Remission Order which will be valid until the end of their sentence. This period is also known as the “remission period”.

25.   Currently, section 50I(3) of the Prisons Act allows the Commissioner to delay the making of a remission order by up to two weeks. In other words, the inmate may be detained for up to two weeks into the remission period, to carry out any outstanding court-ordered punishment, typically caning. For avoidance of doubt, the Commissioner does not have the power to defer an inmate’s release beyond the court-imposed imprisonment sentence.

26.   This two-week period may sometimes be insufficient as an inmate may file a Notice of Appeal within two weeks, or 14 days after the date of the sentence.

a.   Under section 327 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the caning ordered by the court must not be carried out until after the expiration of the 14-day period for filing the Notice of Appeal. Hence, even if no Notice of Appeal is filed, the earliest that SPS will carry out the court-ordered caning is after the 14-day period.

b.   The courts, at times, may backdate an imprisonment sentence with caning for an inmate who had served a period of remand, as the remand period is counted towards the fulfilment of the sentence. In such a scenario, an inmate may be due for release within 14 days of sentencing. SPS would then need to seek a court order under section 326 of the Criminal Procedure Code to authorise the detention of the inmate for as long as it is reasonably necessary, for the caning to be carried out. This is because, as I mentioned earlier, the Prisons Act currently allows an inmate’s release to be delayed by up to two weeks only.

27.   From 2017 to 2021, on average, there were nine inmates per year whose release was deferred by the Commissioner under section 50I(3) of the Prisons Act and four inmates per year whose detention was extended by the court under section 326 of the Criminal Procedure Code, in order to carry out any outstanding court-ordered punishment. All the cases were due to the backdating of sentences.

28.   Clause 9 allows the Commissioner to defer an inmate’s release by up to three weeks to allow SPS sufficient time to carry out any court-ordered punishment, without having to seek an order from the court to extend the inmate’s detention. SPS will release the inmate as soon as the caning has been carried out and he is certified fit for release.

29.   Again, for avoidance of doubt, the Commissioner does not have the power to defer an inmate’s release beyond the court-imposed imprisonment sentence.

Allow the Minister for Home Affairs to Make Regulations Related to Inmates’ Communications

30.   Next, Clause 26 allows the Minister for Home Affairs to make additional regulations related to inmates’ communications to uphold the security and good order of the prison.

31.   Currently, there are no restrictions as to whether a person can publish or disseminate information obtained via any form of communication with an inmate. In addition, SPS can only withhold certain letters sent by or to inmates if they contain anything that affects the security or good order of the prison. From the security perspective, these are insufficient.

32.   We propose two amendments to improve the current security regime.

33.   First, the Minister for Home Affairs may make regulations to require prescribed persons, or prescribed classes of persons, to give an undertaking before they are permitted to communicate with an inmate. Persons who give this undertaking should not publish or disseminate, or cause to be published or disseminated, any information contained in any communication with an inmate that may (i) firstly, affect the security or good order of the prison, or (ii) secondly, incite the commission of any offence.

a.   Examples of information that may affect the security or good order of the prison include drawings of the prison layout, information related to the security installations of a prison, and coded messages for starting a prison disturbance. An example of inciting the commission of any offence is instigating inmates to riot or harm another inmate or person.

34.   Second, the Minister for Home Affairs may make regulations to redact or withhold any material in inmates’ correspondence with any prescribed person, or prescribed classes of persons, that may: (i) first, affect the security or good order of a prison, or (ii) second, incite the commission of any offence.

a.   SPS has previously intercepted secret society-related messages in letters sent by or to inmates. Sometimes, the messages were sent in coded form.

b.   Such messages, if let through, could lead to clashes among inmates who are aligned to different secret societies and undermine the good order or security of the prison, or even incite acts of violence, such as causing hurt to another person outside prison.

35.   The intent of allowing the Minister for Home Affairs to make such regulations is to maintain prison security and ensure the safe and secure custody of inmates. It is not the intent to curtail inmates’ communication or prevent them from airing grievances. Bona fide communications will not be redacted or withheld.

a.   For Members’ information, there are various channels for inmates to provide feedback. They can raise concerns to the Superintendent of the prison or any SPS officer.

b.   Inmates can also give feedback directly to members of the Board of Visiting Justices. Appointed by the Minister for Home Affairs, the Visiting Justices conduct unannounced inspections of the prisons and hear issues raised by the inmates. These issues are documented, followed up by SPS, and the outcomes will be reported back to the Board.

Update and Provide Clarity on Prison Offences

36.   Next, Clause 24 updates and provides clarity on prison offences by repealing and re-enacting sections 72 and 73 of the Prisons Act, which list minor and aggravated prison offences respectively.

37.   For instance, Clause 24 deletes two minor prison offences, “idling or refusing to work or showing negligence in the performance of his allotted task” and “refusing to undergo medical treatment”. In practice, SPS does not enforce against these offences.

a.   Work programmes in prison are voluntary in nature. If, after choosing to participate in a work programme, an inmate idles, refuses to work or is negligent in his work, he will simply be taken off the work programme, with no disciplinary action taken against him.

b.   Similarly, if an inmate refuses to undergo medical treatment and his medical condition or injury is serious, he will be conveyed to a hospital for further observation and treatment, with no disciplinary action taken against him.

38.   With more inmates emplaced in the community over time, it is opportune to provide more clarity on applicable prison offences. Clause 24 will specify that certain prison offences are not applicable when an inmate is serving his imprisonment sentence outside prison. An example of a prison offence that is not applicable to inmates who are not in prison would be tampering with prison locks.

39.   Clause 24 will also specify prison offences for inmates who breach the conditions of the EmPS and EPS. Currently, there are only prison offences prescribed in the Prisons Act for the HDS but not these two schemes. This amendment seeks to standardise the prison offences across these three community-based programmes.

Grant Power to Prison Officers to Obtain Information

40.   Next, Clause 25 provides prison officers with powers to compel the production of documents or information for investigating breaches of conditions and commission of prison offences.

a.   Prison officers conduct inquiries to ascertain if a minor breach of a mandatory aftercare condition, a breach of any of the conditions of community-based programmes such as the HDS or EPS, or a prison offence, had been committed.

b.   There were instances where prison officers faced difficulties in obtaining pertinent information from external parties to ascertain if a breach had been committed. For example, CCTV footage to prove curfew breaches.

c.   To bridge this gap, Clause 25 empowers prison officers of and above the rank of Sergeant to require third parties to provide documents or information that are necessary for the inquiries into the breaches and prison offences.

d.   It is an offence if anyone, without reasonable excuse, fails to provide the required document or information.

41.   Clause 27 inserts a related amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act, to grant prison officers similar powers to assist them in conducting inquiries into breaches of conditions of community-based programmes by DRC and Community Rehabilitation Centre inmates.

Protect Officers from Liability for Acts and Omissions Done in Good Faith and With Reasonable Care

42.   Next, Clause 25 protects prison officers and Auxiliary Police Officers (APOs) from liability for acts and omissions done in good faith and with reasonable care, under the Prisons Act.

43.   In their daily duties, prison officers sometimes have to take calculated risks, and make prompt decisions, to maintain the safe and secure custody of inmates. For example, a prison officer escorting an inmate outside of prison, may use any weapon on any person or inmate who tries to force open a prison transport vehicle, to facilitate an inmate’s escape. In the course of preventing the escape, the prison officer’s actions may cause injury to others or damage property.

44.   Under the Prisons Act and Misuse of Drugs Act, APOs may also be employed by the Commissioner of Prisons, to assist SPS in escorting and guarding inmates. 

45.   It is worth noting that it is explicitly stated that prison officers and APOs are protected from legal liability if they had acted in good faith and with reasonable care under the Misuse of Drugs Act; however, this is not the case for Prisons Act, although they are protected under the common law defence of necessity.

46.   To allow these officers to carry out their lawful duties with greater assurance, we will make this protection from liability explicit in the Prisons Act. This is in line with what is provided for Police officers in the Police Force Act and SCDF officers in the Civil Defence Act. To be clear, officers are not exempt from the ordinary process of law if they have abused their powers or are criminally negligent.

Update Terminology

47.   Next, we will update the terminology used in the Prisons Act.

48.   Clause 7 replaces all references to “leprosy” with “infectious disease” in section 45(2) of the Prisons Act. This will allow the Minister for Home Affairs to direct the removal of any inmate suffering from any infectious disease, not just leprosy, to any hospital or any specified place for treatment. In practice, SPS does not discriminate against inmates with leprosy. All inmates with or suspected of having infectious diseases, including leprosy, have ample access to healthcare and treatment services.

49.   Clause 2 updates the definition of “juvenile” by raising the upper age limit from below 16 years to below 18 years, to align it with the updated definition that was passed under the Children and Young Persons (Amendment) Act 2019.

Grant SPS Administrative Flexibility

50.   Next, the Bill will grant administrative flexibility to SPS:

a.   Clause 4 allows the Minister for Home Affairs to appoint more than one Deputy Commissioner of Prisons who can exercise and perform the Commissioner’s powers, duties and functions. Currently, only one Deputy Commissioner of Prisons can be appointed under the Prisons Act.

b.   Clause 4 also allows the Commissioner of Prisons to delegate any of his or her powers, duties and functions under any written law, instead of those under the Prisons Act only, to any of the Deputy Commissioners, Divisional Directors and Cluster Commanders. An example of the Commissioner’s powers under any written law is the appointment of day reporting officers under section 341(7) of the Criminal Procedure Code.

Allow the Appointment of Temporary Lock-ups

51.   Lastly, Clause 3 allows the Minister for Home Affairs to appoint places as temporary lock-ups.

52.   Currently, the Minister for Home Affairs may appoint lock-ups only at Police stations and court houses, for the confinement of persons arrested, awaiting trial, remanded, or sentenced to an imprisonment term of up to a month.

53.   In the event where there is a mass arrest, such as during a public order incident, it would be operationally expedient to hold all of the arrested persons in a centralised lock-up, rather than across multiple lock-ups. This would facilitate security, investigations, and post-event actions, including prosecution. To ensure that we can call up additional capacity when needed, Clause 3 allows the Minister for Home Affairs to appoint other places that are not Police stations or court houses as temporary lock-ups for the confinement of persons.


54.   The amendments in the Bill will help to improve inmates’ rehabilitation and reintegration outcomes, and enable SPS to be more effective in carrying out its work.

55.   Madam Deputy Speaker, I beg to move.