MHA seeks high-tech warning system to monitor prison behaviour

It wants a way to detect aggressive or suicidal acts in jails in real-time

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is looking for a high-tech warning system which can detect aggressive or suicidal behaviour among prisoners and suspects, allowing officers to step in before it is too late.

To find out what is available in the market, the Ministry has put in a Request for Information (RFI) for a "Human Behaviour Early Detection System".

This will allow it to assess the feasibility, performance and cost of such a system.

"There is a need for remote round-the-clock surveillance of a room with automated, near real-time detection of suspicious, aggressive and suicidal human behaviours," the RFI documents state.

Similar systems are being explored elsewhere.

The US National Institute of Justice commissioned a study to develop a prototype sensor system which can measure an inmate's heart rate, breathing and general body motions without it being attached to the prisoner.

This warning system will alert prison officers if an inmate's heart rate or breathing exceeds pre-determined limits.

There were 61 cases of assault in Singapore prisons last year, 40 of which were attacks between inmates. The rest involved attacks on prison staff.

Earlier this year, a 43-year-old man under arrest for stealing attempted suicide in prison using of a piece cloth torn from his clothes.

In 2009, Chinese national Yu Qiangguo hanged himself in a prison cell while waiting trial for the alleged murder of his former wife.

While the Singapore Prison Service has said the number of assault cases remains low, compared to other countries, a MHA spokesman said it was looking for a system which could "complement" current monitoring efforts.

There are about 12,000 inmates in Singapore's prisons.

The Ministry wants the new system to be able to detect and send real-time alerts about activities - including fights, bullying, shouting and even when a person falls down - occurring in an enclosed room, including police lock-ups and prison cells.

It should also alert officers to someone attempting suicide by hanging, suffocation or banging one's head against the wall.

RFI documents state that, depending on the response, a tender may be called to trial the system on a small scale for at least three months before it is considered for operational implementation.

Mr Rajan Supramaniam, a former senior prison officer turned criminal lawyer, said such a system would offer an additional safeguard on top of current ones such as closed-circuit television cameras.

"The new technology will help maximise protection for inmates in custody," he said.

"Even with the safeguards now, there are blind spots. To monitor 100 per cent is not possible."

roysim@sph.com.sg