Pioneer prison officers honoured

The pioneer generation of Singapore's prison officers have seen their job evolve from one of providing national security to one with a greater focus on rehabilitation.

More than 180 Singapore Prison Service (SPS) officers aged 65 and above received commemorative medallions on Saturday night in honour of their service over the past decades.

Mr Suppiah Mahalingam, who worked for SPS for almost 40 years, said in the early years prisons focused most on securing inmates as a rise in drug-related activity led to Operation Ferret - an exercise to flush out abusers.

More than 26,000 people were arrested between 1977 and 1978, and there was a rush to set up centres to house new inmates, a burden which fell upon pioneer SPS officers.

"I don't think the priority was rehabilitation at that time," said Mr Mahalingam, a 66-year-old former deputy superintendent.

As they were honoured for their contributions, pioneer SPS officers revealed that they, too, were changed by some of the inmates they met.

Mr Mahalingam recalled taking an inmate to his father's funeral at his family's flat. Only the inmate's sister and mother were there so jail staff helped them with the funeral procedures.

"I felt a bit more emotional and understanding towards their plight," said Mr Mahalingam, who went on to study counselling.

Former assistant superintendent Ek'huan Sawal, 66, said that gaining inmates' trust is paramount. "If you have their trust, they will believe in you," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 07, 2015, with the headline 'Pioneer prison officers honoured'. Print Edition | Subscribe