Better education and training for inmates among proposed changes to Prisons Act

A 2014 photo showing inmates attending a computer skills class in prison. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Inmates serving the tail end of their sentences may soon be able to go through educational and training activities to better prepare them to join the workforce.

The Employment Preparation Scheme (EmPS), which was one of the key amendments in the Prisons (Amendment) Bill 2021 introduced in Parliament on Monday (Nov 1), seeks to improve inmates' rehabilitation and reintegration upon their release.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that the proposed new scheme will replace the Work Release Scheme (WRS).

In a Facebook post on Monday, Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim wrote: "EmPS will help inmates raise their employability by allowing them to undergo skills training and education - in addition to working - outside of prison and in the community.

"This way, we help them to upskill for better jobs so they do not relapse into crime due to challenges in finding gainful employment."

MHA said that under the existing law governing WRS, inmates may only be released from prison to work, and not for educational or training activities.

It added that under EmPS, inmates will be allowed to undergo this training in addition to working in the community, to enable them to better secure employment.

All eligible inmates will be assessed by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) to see if they are suitable for the EmPS.

To be eligible, the inmate must have served at least 14 days of imprisonment, and the Commissioner of Prisons must find that the inmate is suitable based on factors such as the inmate's progress and response to rehabilitation, family support, and risk of reoffending.

The new scheme will have three parts. The first is an in-camp phase where inmates may work and train outside prison during the day before returning to a work release centre in the evening.

Inmates who show good progress during the first phase will then be allowed to stay at their place of residence on weekends.

The final phase is a long home leave that allows inmates to return to their homes daily after work, educational classes or skills training.

Throughout the scheme, the inmates will get support from SPS on their reintegration needs.

They will also be subject to conditions such as electronic monitoring and reporting to their reintegration officer. Inmates who breach the conditions can be recalled to prison or have their EmPS order revoked.

MHA also tabled several other amendments to the Prisons Act that will allow for operational and administrative flexibility. These include:

• Allowing the Commissioner of Prisons to defer an inmate's release by up to 21 days to carry out court-ordered punishment, such as corporal punishment. This will allow punishments to be carried out after the 14-day appeal period without the SPS having to seek a court order for offenders whose sentences are backdated and who are due for release within the 14 days.

• Allowing the Minister for Home Affairs to redact or withhold inmates' correspondence that might affect the security or good order of prisons, or incite the commission of any offence. Examples include drawings that show a plan to escape from prison, coded messages for starting a prison disturbance, or instigating inmates to riot or harm another inmate or person.

• Allowing the Minister for Home Affairs to require prescribed persons to give an undertaking that they will not publish or disseminate information contained in any communication with an inmate that may affect the security or good order of the prison, or incite the commission of any offence, before they are allowed to communicate with an inmate. MHA said it will be reviewing who these prescribed persons are.

• Protecting prison officers and auxiliary police officers authorised by the Commissioner of Prisons from liability for acts and omissions done in "good faith and with reasonable care" under the Prisons Act.

• Updating the definition of juvenile to refer to a person under the age of 18, instead of 16, in line with the amendment to the Children and Young Persons Act in 2019.

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