A new amendment to the Prisons Bill will allow inmates to undergo skills training and education in the community under the Employment Preparation Scheme (EmPS).
This scheme, and other changes, were laid out by Minister of State for Home Affairs, Faishal Ibrahim, during the second reading of the amendment Bill on Jan. 11.
The legislation was passed after its third reading on the same day.
Employment Preparation Scheme
The EmPS will replace the existing Work Release Scheme (WRS), in which inmates are only allowed to work outside of prison, under supervision, at the tail-end of their sentence.
The new scheme will complement the work programmes and skills training provided by Singapore Prison Service (SPS) and Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG) in prison.
According to data presented by Faishal, from 2016 to 2020, 997 inmates were emplaced on the WRS, and 90 per cent of them successfully completed the programme.
Inmates are eligible for the EmPS if they have served at least 14 days of imprisonment and the Commissioner considers them suitable for the scheme.
Other factors, such as the inmates' progress, response to rehabilitation, family support, risk of rehabilitation, family support, and risk of reoffending, will be considered.
They will be put under SPS's supervision and receive support for their reintegration.
Besides requiring the inmates to be employed, undergo skills training or education, they will be subjected to conditions such as electronic monitoring, mandatory reporting, and curfew hours.
SPS will adopt a "step-down approach" to gradually ease inmates back into society.
During the in-camp phase, eligible inmates may work, upskill themselves through training, or pursue their education outside the prison during the day. They will return to their work release centre in the evening.
If they show good progress during the in-camp phase, they will be permitted to move on to the weekend home leave phase. This means that they can return to their place of residence during the weekend.
If the inmates continue to demonstrate good progress during the weekend home leave phase, they can return to their place of residence daily after work, classes or training, under the long home leave phase.
Inmates under the scheme are required to abide by all stipulated conditions.
If they are suspected to have violated any conditions or have committed any offences, they may be recalled to prison for inquiry, and if they are found to have committed a breach or an offence, they may have their emplacement revoked.
Employers should maintain an open mind: Desmond Choo
NTUC's Assistant Secretary-General and Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC Desmond Choo said that the scheme should include as many eligible inmates as possible.
He also called on employers to maintain an open mind and view ex-offenders as a potential pool of committed workers.
Even as the number of employers registered with YRSG has been steadily increasing over the years, Choo cited research stating that some inmates who are considered PMETs were unable to find suitable vacancies commensurate with their qualifications.
He added that there is still a pressing need to rope in more employers in different industries to join as partners of the scheme, and the union will support them.
Individuals required to give an undertaking before communicating with inmate
As part of the amendment to the current security regime, the Minister for Home Affairs may also make regulations to require prescribed persons, or prescribed classes of persons, to give an undertaking before they are permitted to communicate with an inmate.
Individuals who give the undertaking should not publish or disseminate, or cause to be published or disseminated, any 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.
These include drawings of the prison layout, information related to the security installations of a prison, and coded messages for starting a prison disturbance.
An example of inciting the commission of any offence is instigating inmates to riot or harm another inmate or person.
The Minister for Home Affairs may also make regulations to redact or withhold any material in inmates' correspondence with any prescribed person, or prescribed classes of persons, that may affect the security or good order of a prison, or incite the commission of any offence.
Faishal shared that SPS has previously intercepted secret society-related messages in letters sent by or to inmates. Sometimes, the messages were sent in coded form.
"If let through, (the messages) could lead to clashes among inmates who are aligned to different secret societies and undermine the good order or security of the prison, or even incite acts of violence, such as causing hurt to another person outside prison," Faishal said.
Intention not to curtail communication, grievances can be aired through proper channels
Faishal emphasised that the intent of allowing the minister to make such regulations is to maintain prison security and ensure the safe and secure custody of inmates.
It is not meant to curtail inmates' communication or prevent them from airing grievances. Bona fide communications will not be redacted or withheld.
Faishal highlighted to members of the house that there are various channels for inmates to provide feedback.
They can raise concerns to the Superintendent of the prison or any SPS officer.
Inmates can also give feedback directly to members of the Board of Visiting Justices, who are appointed by the Minister for Home Affairs. The Visiting Justices conduct unannounced inspections of the prisons and hear issues raised by inmates.
Deferment of inmate's release by up to three weeks to complete court-ordered punishment
Another amendment to the Prison Act includes deferring inmates' release by up to three weeks to carry out any outstanding court-ordered punishment.
As of now, if inmates display good conduct and behaviour, they would generally be released after they have served two-thirds of their sentence.
Nonetheless, they may be detained for up to two weeks into the remission period to carry out any outstanding court-ordered punishment, typically caning.
However, the two-week period may sometimes be insufficient as an inmate may file a Notice of Appeal within two weeks or 14 days after the date of the sentence.
The amendment then allows the Commissioner to defer an inmate's release by up to three weeks to allow SPS sufficient time to carry out any court-ordered punishment, without having to seek an order from the court to extend the inmate's detention.
It is important to note that SPS will release the inmate as soon as the court-ordered punishment has been carried out and is certified fit for release. The Commissioner also does not have the power to defer an inmate's release beyond the court-imposed imprisonment sentence.
You can read Faishal's full speech, and the complete list of amendments, at this link.
Follow and listen to our podcast here
Top image screenshot via MCI Singapore/YouTube