Prisons to suspend all family visits; steps taken to protect inmates, staff

From today to May 4, the Singapore Prison Service will suspend all family visits, including both face-to-face visits and televisits which allow families of inmates to chat with them via video conferencing.

Inmates, however, can keep in touch with their family members through local phone calls, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin told Parliament yesterday. But overseas calls will not be allowed, he added.

Inmates can also continue to send letters to their families, including electronic letters, during the period of "circuit breaker" measures to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Prison programmes involving external parties, such as work programmes and family programmes, will also be suspended.

Essential services such as bakeries, kitchens and laundry services will continue to function.

There have been no cases of Covid-19 in Singapore's prisons so far, Mr Amrin said.

He added that the prisons have taken extra precautionary measures to protect inmates as well as prison officers and staff from the virus.

All newly admitted inmates are housed separately from the general population and are monitored for 14 days, including through temperature screenings twice a day.

Since March 23, inmates who fulfil the Ministry of Health's case definition for Covid-19, or who have chest X-ray results that suggest respiratory infection, have been tested for Covid-19.

"Front-line prison officers are issued personal protective equipment, which includes disposable masks and gloves for use and interaction with all new admissions and any suspected case of Covid-19 in the inmate population," he said.

"Prisons have also implemented compulsory temperature screening for all staff and visitors at all access points into prison facilities."

Mr Amrin was replying to Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC), who also asked what plans the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has to tackle the transmission of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C in prisons.

Mr Amrin said there have been no known instances of inmates contracting HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C while in prison.

He also said prisons take reference from the Health Ministry's National Adult Immunisation Schedule on vaccination, under which Hepatitis B vaccinations are not mandatory.

Mr Amrin said officers and medical personnel conduct regular health talks for inmates to promote healthy lifestyles. This includes education on personal hygiene and not engaging in risky behaviour.

"MHA will continue to regularly review the healthcare approach in our prisons through its Medical Advisory Panel," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2020, with the headline 'Prisons to suspend all family visits; steps taken to protect inmates, staff'. Print Edition | Subscribe