betty July 4, 2022

SINGAPORE – Prison conditions in Singapore are assessed to be acceptable and the needs of prison inmates are being met, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam told Parliament on Monday (July 4).

He was addressing issues raised about prison conditions, following interest generated in the wake of a documentary by CNA earlier in the year titled Inside Maximum Security.

Mr Shanmugam said several Members of Parliament had filed related questions and that from time to time there are questions raised on whether Singapore’s prison conditions should be improved.

Speaking generally, he said there have been points made on overcrowding, the long periods of time inmates spend in their cells and the fact they sleep on straw mats.

He also highlighted points raised involving the case of David James Roach, a Canadian who had been extradited from Britain in 2020 for the Standard Chartered Bank robbery here in 2016. It had been claimed Singapore’s prison conditions would violate his human rights.

An expert witness had cited the lack of partition between living and eating spaces in cells, describing it as effectively eating in the toilet and a lack of privacy when inmates used the toilet.

Mr Shanmugam said the UK courts found that while the conditions of Singapore’s prisons were not ideal, the defence counsel representing Roach had failed to show Roach was at real risk of a breach of his rights.

Mr Shanmugam said Singapore’s prison regime and prison environment are austere, intentionally so with a lot of emphasis on security and monitoring, so our officers know what is going on.

“This is because you get situations where inmates might try to do a lot of harm to themselves, get contraband, create security situations and other similar issues,” he said.

The minister said Singapore has maximised its use of land amid scarcity, with land area taken up by the Changi Prison Complex built in the early 2000s, and drug rehabilitation centres.

Said Mr Shanmugam: “This is the footprint that we have. If we want to change it, a huge amount of money will have to be spent, probably running into billions of dollars, with more land taken. And whether that should be done depends on our assessment of the current conditions.

“Our assessment is that the conditions are acceptable, and fits in with our philosophy of how prisons ought to be. The essential needs of our inmates are also met.”

Mr Shanmugam said that based on the Government’s standards and assessments, there was no overcrowding in Singapore’s prisons, which are operating at about 70 per cent.

He said overcrowding was an issue in prisons in several other countries, and cited a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime which states that “of the 100 countries and territories for which it had data on, nearly half – 47 per cent – were operating at more than 100 per cent of the intended capacity”. 

He said overcrowding was an issue in prisons in several other countries, and cited a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime which states that 47 per cent out of 100 countries were operating at more than 100 per cent capacity.

But he asked for care when making comparisons between countries.