Singapore Prison Service to rename newsletter after name triggers backlash

The Singapore Prison Service said it would rename its magazine after members of the public pointed out the name denotes control and oppression. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM SPS.GOV.SG

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Prison Service (SPS) will give its quarterly newsletter a "more appropriate name" after some people took issue with what it is called currently - Panopticon.

Several netizens and academics had noted that the current name refers to the panopticon concept.

Introduced by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, it is based on the belief that society can be changed through constant surveillance with people regulating their behaviour out of fear.

A spokesman for SPS acknowledged that the term "could be misconstrued, and convey an unintended and wrong imagery".

SPS intended for the magazine to refer to an infrastructure and management design that allows inmates to be effectively and efficiently supervised, said the spokesman, noting that the newsletter has been named Panopticon since 2009.

The newsletter was made available to the public only in July this year and is on the SPS' website.

"The features of the Panopticon are seen in many modern prisons today, and the name is consistent with SPS' mission to ensure the secure custody of offenders, while at the same time rehabilitating them," said the spokesman.

However, the SPS will conduct an internal review to rename it after receiving feedback from the public.

Mr Benjamin Lee, 49, also known by his blogging moniker, Mr Miyagi, said the term goes against the SPS' intentions of rehabilitating and re-integrating inmates.

A simpler name like the "Singapore Prison Service Newsletter", would be a safer option than anything that tries to be clever, said Mr Lee, who heads a digital and social content strategy team.

"It is a serious service, and deserves an honest and straightforward treatment," said Mr Lee.

Other observers said the newsletter's contents, featuring interviews with prison officers on their work and other rehabilitation initiatives, was in stark contrast to its name.

Freelance photographer Joseph Nair, 33, said the naming was "painfully ironic", as the newsletter is positive and bright in explaining policy.

He had skimmed through the newsletter's contents after noticing netizens reacting to its name, which he said denotes control and oppression.

Dr Melvin Chen, a philosophy lecturer at the Nanyang Technological University, said the issue lies in the historical development of the term "panopticon".

Panopticon was first used to refer to a design where guards can observe inmates without being observed - hence ensuring that inmates improve their behaviour in an efficient manner.

But the term has, over time, been used as a metaphor to criticise the state's disciplinary tendencies, said Dr Chen.

"Once the dust has settled, it is to be hoped for that a better understanding of the lineage and nuances of the term 'Panopticon' will be attained," he said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.