Published: 04 January 2021
Mr Leon Perera: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) what is the investigation process for complaints lodged by prison inmates on mistreatment in prison; (b) how many of such complaints has the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) received in the past five years; (c) of these, how many are repeated complaints and how many have been found to be justified; (d) in the justified cases, what action has the SPS taken; (e) what independent avenues are there for prison inmates to lodge such complaints; and (f) whether the Government has considered setting up independent oversight mechanisms to investigate and redress complaints.
1. There are a number of ways by which inmates can raise their complaints. They can raise their complaints to the superintendent of the institution or any SPS officer. They can do so through their families, friends, Members of Parliament or lawyers, who can in turn raise the matter to SPS or MHA HQ.
2. Inmates may also lodge complaints and share their concerns directly with the Board of Visiting Justices and the Board of Visitors. These Board members conduct unannounced inspections of prison institutions. They are prominent members of society who have made significant contributions in their profession, the public service, social services or in the community.
3. After each inspection, the Board members will note down the feedback received during the visit, as well as any other comments and recommendations that they may have. The report is sent to the superintendent of the inspected institution to follow up. The superintendent is required to look into every issue, and provide a written reply to the Board members. The reports from the Board members and the superintendents’ findings are sent to SPS’s senior management and MHA HQ for review.
4. Any complaint of mistreatment of an inmate by a prison officer is treated especially seriously and is investigated by a team of provost officers and assessed by SPS’s senior management. The provost officers will take statements from the complainant, witnesses, as well as the accused party, and review all available evidence, for instance, CCTV footage. Thereafter, they will submit their findings to SPS’s senior management. Board members can also review SPS’s investigation findings, including the evidence, and interview inmates as part of addressing their complaints.
5. If SPS officers are found to have acted unprofessionally, disciplinary action will be taken, including dismissal. If investigations indicate a potential criminal offence being committed, the case will be referred to the Police, or another appropriate law enforcement agency such as the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau if graft is suspected.
6. Between 2016 and 2020, SPS received an average of 12 complaints per year on mistreatment of inmates, such as unauthorised use of force, threat or verbal abuse. This included three cases of repeated complaints. Of all the complaints on mistreatment of inmates received in the last five years, two were eventually found to be substantiated, involving the unauthorised use of force on inmates by SPS officers. In the first case, an officer had grabbed the triceps of three inmates and stepped on their toes on a few occasions. The matter came to light when one of the inmates reported the matter to another SPS officer and the case was investigated. All three inmates were sent for a medical examination and one was found to have sustained two small bruises on his arm. No injuries were found on the other two inmates. A fine was imposed on the offending officer. In the second case, an officer was found to have slapped an inmate once when the inmate put up a struggle against him after being defiant and refusing to comply with repeated instructions. The officer himself reported the incident to his supervisor, admitting to the act. No injuries were found on the inmate during his medical examination. A fine was similarly imposed on the officer.
7. MHA also has an Independent Review Panel, IRP, to look into serious cases of misconduct by all Home Team officers; this is not restricted to SPS. Cases that the IRP reviews include those which have resulted in death or serious injury, and those which obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice. IRP members include retired judges, former senior Home Team officers, and other persons of standing in society.
8. An IRP Case Committee will convene to look into each case referred to the IRP. Each Committee comprises at least three persons selected from the IRP, with not more than one former Home Team officer. It will provide its opinion to the Minister for Home Affairs on whether the investigation was conducted thoroughly and fairly, and whether they agree with the investigation outcome.The IRP has been convened for Police and CNB cases, but so far, not for SPS cases.
9. SPS takes every complaint very seriously. It does not condone any mistreatment of inmates and takes firm and strict disciplinary action against any officer found to have done so.