Press Releases

First Reading of the Prisons (Amendment) Bill

Published: 01 November 2021

1.   The Prisons (Amendment) Bill 2021 was introduced for First Reading in Parliament today. The Bill proposes amendments to the Prisons Act to:

(a)   Enhance community corrections; and
(b)   Facilitate the Singapore Prison Service’s (SPS) operations and administration.

2.   These amendments strive to improve inmates’ rehabilitation and reintegration outcomes, and enable SPS to carry out its functions more effectively.

Key Amendments

Enhance Community Corrections

Introduce the Employment Preparation Scheme

3.   The Bill will introduce a new scheme called the Employment Preparation Scheme (EmPS), which will replace the Work Release Scheme (WRS). The WRS, which was introduced in 1985, allows SPS to release suitable inmates to work outside prison at the tail-end of their sentence. The WRS aims to ease inmates’ transition into society through gainful employment. Under the existing law governing WRS, inmates may only be released from prison to work, and not for participation in educational or training activities to upskill themselves.

4.   Under the EmPS, inmates will be allowed to undergo skills training and education, in addition to working, in the community. Skills training and education will enhance inmates’ employability, which would help in their securing employment after release. All eligible inmates will be assessed by SPS for their suitability for emplacement on the EmPS[1]. These 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 of Prisons (C/SPS). C/SPS, taking into consideration the committee’s recommendation, may then emplace an inmate on the EmPS.

5.   Suitable inmates may be emplaced on the EmPS at the tail-end of their sentence, which comprises three phases:

(a)   In-camp phase – Emplacement on the EmPS starts with inmates undergoing the in-camp phase, during which they may work, upskill themselves through training, or pursue their education, outside prison during the day, and return to reside at a work release centre in the evening[2].
(b)   Weekend home leave phase – 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)   Long home leave phase – Long home leave phase is the final phase of the EmPS. Inmates can return to their place of residence daily after work, educational classes or skills training.

6.   Throughout the EmPS, the inmates will receive support from SPS on their reintegration needs. They will be subjected to conditions, such as electronic monitoring and regular reporting to their Reintegration Officer. Inmates who breach the conditions of the EmPS can be recalled to prison pending an inquiry into the breach or have their EmPS order revoked.

Other Amendments Related to Community Corrections

7.   To better administer community corrections, MHA is tabling amendments to the Prisons Act, which include the following:

(a)   Allow SPS to have alternative means of notifying supervisees of changes made to the conditions of their community-based programmes[3]. Presently, the law requires a written notification of changes to conditions. Alternative means of notifying supervisees such as using SMS and messaging applications will enhance SPS’s administrative flexibility and efficiency.

(b)   Provide SPS officers with powers to obtain documents or information from third parties in the course of making inquiries into breaches of conditions by supervisees[4].  Currently, SPS officers are not able to compel third parties to produce documents or information as such requests are not rooted in legislation. This has resulted in instances of third parties not acceding to such requests. Granting such powers to SPS officers will strengthen SPS’s investigation processes and allow SPS to adequately conduct an inquiry into breaches. For example, SPS would be able to legally compel a premise owner to share CCTV footage, to ascertain if there had been a breach of condition by the supervisee. The Bill will also introduce a related amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act, to grant SPS officers similar powers to assist them in conducting inquiries into breaches of conditions by Drug Rehabilitation Centre and Community Rehabilitation Centre supervisees emplaced on community-based programmes.  

Facilitate SPS’s Operations and Administration

8.   To provide for operational and administrative flexibility, MHA is tabling the following amendments:

(a)   Allow C/SPS to defer an inmate’s release by up to 21 days to carry out any outstanding Court-ordered punishment (primarily to carry out corporal punishment). An inmate may file a Notice of Appeal against his conviction and sentence within 14 days after the date of the sentence. Under section 327 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), the caning must not be carried out until after the expiration of the 14-day grace period given for filing the Notice of Appeal. Hence, even if no Notice of Appeal is filed, the earliest that SPS will carry out caning ordered by the Court is after the 14-day grace period. This means that if the offender is due for release within 14 days of sentencing (this typically happens in cases where the Court backdates an imprisonment sentence with caning for an offender who has already served a period of remand), SPS needs to seek an Order from the Court to extend the inmate’s detention for the punishment to be carried out. This is because the Prisons Act currently provides for the deferment of an inmate’s release by up to 14 days only.

The proposed amendment to the Prisons Act will allow C/SPS to defer the inmate’s release by up to 21 days instead of the current 14 days. This will enable SPS to have sufficient time to carry out the punishment ordered by the Court, immediately after the 14-day grace period for filing the Notice of Appeal, without the need to seek an Order from the Court. SPS takes special care in exercising such powers. SPS will release the inmate as soon as the punishment has been carried out and the inmate has been certified fit for release.

(b)   Allow the Minister for Home Affairs, to make regulations to redact or withhold, inmates’ correspondence that may (i) affect the security or good order of prisons, or (ii) incite the commission of any offence[5].   The proposed amendment to the Prisons Act will allow SPS to be more effective in maintaining prison security, as well as in ensuring the safe and secure custody of inmates. 

(c)   Allow the Minister for Home Affairs to make regulations to require prescribed persons to give an undertaking that they will not publish or disseminate, any information contained in any communication with an inmate that may (i) affect the security or good order of the prison, or (ii) incite the commission of any offence, before they are allowed to communicate with an inmate. Currently, there are no restrictions as to whether a person can publish or disseminate any information that was obtained during communication with an inmate. Doing so will allow SPS to be more effective in maintaining prison security, as well as in ensuring the safe and secure custody of inmates.

(d)   Make explicit the protection for prison officers and auxiliary police officers authorised by C/SPS from liability for acts and omissions done in “good faith and with reasonable care”, in the execution of the Prisons Act. These officers currently rely on the defence of necessity under common law. This amendment makes this existing protection explicit in the Prisons Act, so that these officers can carry out their lawful duties with greater assurance. This is in line with what is provided for Police officers in the Police Force Act, Central Narcotics Bureau officers in the Misuse of Drugs Act and Singapore Civil Defence Force officers in the Civil Defence Act. For avoidance of doubt, officers are not exempt from the ordinary process of law if they are criminally negligent or have abused their powers.

(e)   Update the definition of “juvenile” to refer to a person under the age of 18 years old, instead of a person under 16 years old. This is to align with the revised definition that was passed under the Children and Young Persons (Amendment) Act 2019[6]

[1] An inmate is eligible for the EmPS if he/she has served at least 14 days of imprisonment, and C/SPS considers that he/she is suitable for the EmPS based on factors such as the inmate’s progress and response to rehabilitation, family support, and risk of reoffending.

[2] Institution S2 at the Selarang Park Complex, which is run by SPS, is currently the only facility designated as a work release centre.

[3] Community-based programmes include the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme, Home Detention Scheme, Employment Preparation Scheme and External Placement Scheme.

[4] Supervisees refer to inmates emplaced on community-based programmes.

[5] Examples of information that may affect the security or good order of the prison include drawings that show an escape plan from prison, information related to the security installations of the prison, coded messages for starting a prison disturbance etc. Examples of inciting the commission of any offence include instigating inmates to riot or harm another inmate or person.

[6] With the Children and Young Persons (Amendment) Act passed in Parliament on 4 September 2019, the upper age limit in the definition of “juvenile” would be raised to below 18 years of age, from below 16 years of age. This amendment will take effect at a later date.