Singapore prison officers' defence training on handling aggressive inmates amended following feedback

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The Singapore Prison Training Institute has revised its close-quarters defence syllabus to better prepare prison officer trainees for a range of scenarios.

SINGAPORE - Prison officers are trained to defend themselves when an inmate gets aggressive.

But last year, officers provided feedback that the skills they learnt as trainees to defend themselves against such inmates at close quarters were not fully applicable in all situations.

The Singapore Prisons Emergency Action Response (Spear) Force, Singapore Prison Service (SPS)'s tactical unit, then reviewed footage of assaults by inmates to devise a new defence training programme.

They came up with a simpler method and its first 34 prison officer trainees have undergone a course in it.

Previous tactics had limitations, the officers said.

For example, the techniques could be executed for attacks from the right but not adaptable to attacks from the left.

To address this, they now learn simpler and more intuitive techniques that can be adapted to various scenarios to disengage an aggressive inmate and create safe distances from them.

The Sunday Times was invited to the Home Team Academy in Old Choa Chu Kang Road on Wednesday (Oct 6) to watch the second batch of trainees go through this new syllabus.

Socially distanced and masked up, 31 trainees learnt the four-point block, using their arms to defend against attacks from all directions.

And the palm strike, using their palms to create a safe distance with the inmate to help them harness their natural instincts to defend against aggressive inmates.

The three-hour session was held in a multi-purpose hall known as the Dojo under the watchful eye of trainer Irwan Kurniawan Rahmat who has been a prison officer for 17 years.

Chief Warder Irwan, 42, who was involved in designing the new syllabus, said SPS wanted something easier for the trainee officers to learn, understand and execute.

Officers are trained to use direct force only as a last resort. PHOTO: ST FILE

He said: "Previous techniques were skills-based and required a lot of repetition and memorising. Current techniques are reaction-based that are more instinctive to pick up."

Close-quarters defence training has been part of a prison officer's training since 1998 so that they can defend themselves and other inmates against aggressors.

To improve the syllabus, some of the Spear officers travelled to Perth, Australia, in January last year to learn a defence technique called Intercept, Stabilise and Resolve Matrix from the correction agency there.

The SPS trainers also studied relevant techniques from krav maga, an Israeli martial art, and those used by the British prison service.

They then adapted these techniques and introduced them to the first batch of trainees in March.

In its annual statistics released in February, SPS said there were 35.9 assault cases per 10,000 inmates between April and December last year.

It added the recent review was not conducted due to any injuries as a result of the old techniques.

CW Irwan stressed that the techniques are meant as a way to de-escalate often heated tense situations, and that officers are trained to use direct force only as a last resort.

He added: "We have also been incorporating technology like virtual reality to ensure that trainees are prepared for different scenarios and to have a better understanding on what they can expect."

Trainee rehabilitation officer Previtha Jay Bala Muraly said: "Instead of being given instructions on how to react to every specific scenario, we learn various techniques we can then adapt to react to any given situation. This is important, given how unpredictable the situations can be."

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