Shanmugam explains why prison conditions in S’pore is made intentionally austere


Prison conditions in Singapore is intentionally made austere to prevent suicides or self-harm, said Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.

“There are no fans inside the cells for inmates. Mounted fans could pose a security risk because they can be potential anchor points for suicide. They could also be dismantled, with the parts potentially used as weapons,” he said on Jul 5 in Parliament.

To circumvent the lack of fans, there is a combination of natural and mechanical ventilation inside the cells, he added.

The minister was delivering a ministerial statement on prison conditions and rehabilitation, in response to the substantial interest generated by the CNA documentary “Inside Maximum Security”.

For bedding, mattresses are not used for hygiene and security reasons. A straw mat and two blankets are issued instead.

“Due to our hot and humid climate, mattresses for inmates are not ideal because of hygiene issues, generally. The current bedding also minimises the security risks of inmates hiding contraband items in the cells,” he explained.

However, for inmates who require additional care, such as due to old age, or mobility issues, beds are provided.

Lower suicide rates in Singapore prisons

The austere approach is probably one reason for the lower suicide rates in Singapore prisons.

“Between 2017 and 2021, there was one case of suicide in the Singapore prisons, compared with 10 cases in Hong Kong over the same period; 12 cases in Norway between 2017 and 2020; and 22 cases in Denmark between 2017 and 2020,” he said.

The assault rate is also low at around 47 since FY2019.

“47 per 10,000 is very low. In comparison: 520 for Hong Kong; 270 for England and Wales; 214 for Australia; and 105 for South Korea,” he said.

The assault rates for Hong Kong, Australia and South Korea are for calendar year 2019, while the assault rate for England and Wales is for calendar year 2021.

For recreation, inmates also have access to electronic tablets in their cells daily, which they can used to access to e-learning materials, read e-books, write and receive letters and receive news updates.

Minister Shanmugam added that inmates typically have at least one hour of out-of-cell recreation  on weekdays.

“They engage in sports and exercise or read newspapers, play board games, or watch TV programmes… Inmates who work or attend programmes, such as psychology-based correctional programmes, family programmes, religious programmes, may spend two to ten hours a day outside of their cells, depending on the programme intensity.”