Assault rate in Singapore prisons up since 2019

Singapore Prisons Emergency Action Response Force officers restraining a violent "inmate" during a demonstration on Feb 8, 2022. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - The assault rate in prisons here went up in 2019 and has been hovering around the same level since, statistics released by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) on Wednesday (Feb 9) revealed.

Between April 2021 and March this year, the assault rate is expected to be 46.1 per 10,000 inmates, with the current rate between April and December 2021 standing at 34.6.

These cases include any attack on prison officers or assaults on fellow inmates during which the victim sustains serious injuries.

Between April 2019 and March 2020 the rate was 46.1, while between April 2020 and March 2021 it was 46.9.

Between April 2012 and March 2019, the yearly assault rates ranged between 24.4 and 39.1.

In response to queries by The Straits Times, SPS said the assault rate varies from year to year and is dependent on many factors, one of which is the inmates’ profiles in prison.

SPS added: “In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of offenders admitted to prison for violent offences. Such offenders are more prone to committing violent offences during incarceration.”

SPS said inmates who commit assault offences will be investigated, adjudicated and punished accordingly, and a police report may be made against those who commit serious offences.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday, SPS director for corporate communications and relations Rafidah Suparman said the assault rate in Singapore prisons remains low compared with overseas counterparts, which can range between 120 and 600 per 10,000 inmates each year.

SPS said it continues to monitor the situation closely and is taking appropriate measures to keep assault rates low. 

For example, inmates with violent antecedents are scheduled to attend rehabilitation programmes that addresses their issues with violence and teaches them to regulate their emotions better.

As common triggers that spark off assaults are conflicts between inmates, as well as their inability to manage their anger and emotions, the programmes also teach restorative practices to inmates to help them resolve conflict.

Inmates are also encouraged to take responsibility for their behaviour, learn from the incident and take action to repair the harm.

Restorative practices are also taught proactively to inmates, to help them develop healthy norms in interpersonal interactions and prevent such incidents.

Sergeant Muhammad Hashnul Nizam Hassan, a personal supervisor at SPS, has seen the practices help resolve a dispute and prevent a fight from reoccurring.

In 2017, he responded to an incident where an inmate had attacked another inmate who spoke to him in a manner he did not like. Both inmates were friends.

Sergeant Hashnul spoke to the victim, whom he had worked with previously, about some of his goals to be a changed man after he was released from prison.

"He talked about giving a chance to others, forgiving others, because that is what he wants for himself when he is released into society. He said he will give the assailant a chance," Sargent Hashnul said.

Sergeant Hashnul then spoke to the assailant about the relationship between the pair and found out the they were good friends.

He also asked the assailant if it was useful to be worried that his friend would one day take revenge on him.

The assailant decided it was not, and the pair had a tearful reconciliation.

Some prison fights break out because of gang affiliation, said former inmate John (not his real name).

The 49-year-old is a former gang member who spent 15 years in and out of prison.

He said: "Inside prison, inmates have nothing better to do, so some of them still hold on to the image of being a gangster. But when you ask them why they fight, they won't have any answers for you."

While in prison, John realised his ties with secret societies had resulted in more harm than good in his life, and that his sentence was impacting his 10-year-old son's well-being.

Wanting to make a change, he renounced his gang membership through a programme organised by SPS in 2009. Since his release from prison in 2014, John has been mentoring inmates with non-profit Industrial & Services Co-Operative Society, first as a volunteer and then as an employee.

SPS' gang renunciation programme - which started in 2009 - has been adapted over the years to involve family members to help the inmates through the process.

It is one of the ways SPS reduces incidences of violence in prisons, and has seen 1,463 inmates renounce their membership so far.

When large incidents break out in prison, the Singapore Prisons Emergency Action Response (Spear) Force, SPS' tactical unit, may be activated.

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On Tuesday, Spear officers demonstrated to the media some of its newly operationalised technology, in a mock-up scenario on how they would respond to a violent offender.

This included the use of a tactical electronic distraction device - which utilises speakers to emit a 120 decibel screeching sound together with bright lights - to distract an inmate and thus enable a fast and safe intervention.

This device, which was operationalised in 2020, improves on pyrotechnic distraction devices that are not suitable for use in places with flammable or combustive gasses and chemicals, such as kitchens.

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