SINGAPORE - A rare glimpse into the day-to-day lives of inmates serving time behind bars emerged in a Parliament sitting on Tuesday (March 8).
Inmates are only allowed to do stretching exercises in their cells and vigorous exercise such as shadow boxing is not permitted, said Minister of State for Home Affairs Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.
Associate Professor Faishal was responding to a question from Mr Leon Perera (Aljunied GRC) on whether prison and drug rehabilitation centre inmates are prohibited from exercising in their cells and whether Singapore Prison Service will consider allowing them to do prescribed workouts in their cells given the significant psychological and health benefits of exercise.
Prof Faishal said the rule against vigorous exercises in cells helps to maintain order in prison: "Some inmates may claim to be exercising in their cell when shadow-boxing or sparring, or giving tips and teaching others how to fight and attack opponents. This would pose challenges to maintaining good order and discipline in prison."
Another reason for this rule is to prevent conflict in cells, since most cells are designed to house up to four or eight inmates and there is not enough space for vigorous exercise without affecting others or intruding into their personal space, added Prof Faishal.
The rule is maintained even if there is only one inmate occupying the cell as it ensures equal treatment, he said.
Prof Faishal noted that inmates generally have at least an hour of recreational time per day on weekdays which they can use for exercise and ball games in the recreational yard, or other activities like watching television and playing board games.
In a separate reply, he provided an update on take-up rate of various rehabilitation programmes in response to Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim's (Chua Chu Kang GRC) question on how many inmates attended such programmes last year.
Prof Faishal said that psychology-based correctional and family programmes were assessed to be suitable for about half of last year's admissions into prison.
But about 5 per cent may not attend the programmes due to motivation or mental health issues. Some may also fall sick, he added.
About 40 per cent of the inmate population attended skills training as at the end of last year, while about 30 per cent attended work programmes. For other programmes, such as educational and religious programmes, participation ranged from about 5 per cent to 60 per cent, depending on inmates' needs and preferences, said Prof Faishal.
Responding to Mr Perera on the frequency of such programmes, Prof Faishal said psychology-based correctional programmes consist of individual and group sessions and take place one to three times a week, with varying intensity from a few weeks to a few months depending on the inmate.
Religious programmes occur weekly, while pre-release programmes take place towards the end of an inmate's sentence.
"At the halfway houses, all supervisees would have to go through a programme to reinforce the skills and concepts learnt in prison," said Prof Faishal.
All inmates can access programmes using tablet computers, rehabilitation materials like e-versions of psychology-based correctional programmes, motivational talks and guides on regulating emotions and communication skills.
While there are different programmes in prison to help inmates rehabilitate and prepare them for reintegration into the society, their successful reintegration also depends on other factors such as them having stable employment and positive prosocial networks, Prof Faishal said.
"It would also depend very much on the individual's personal motivation and desire to change," he added.
In a written reply to Mr Perera on the wages inmates receive in work programmes, Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said that work programmes ensure that inmates stay purposefully engaged, develop positive work ethics and pick up useful skills for them to join the workforce after their release.
“Inmates can choose whether they want to participate in work programmes,” he said, adding: “The allowance is not meant to be a wage but serves to motivate inmates to perform well and develop themselves while on work programmes. Currently, this ranges from about $0.30 to $2.60 per hour for prison workshops, and depends on the requirements of the work programme.”