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SINGAPORE: A new Bill seeks to expand the scope of what eligible inmates can do outside prison towards the tail-end of their sentence, by allowing them to undergo skills training and education, in addition to working.

Tabled for its first reading in Parliament by Minister of State for Ministry of Home Affairs Faishal Ibrahim on Monday (Nov 1), the Prisons (Amendment) Bill will introduce a new scheme called the Employment Preparation Scheme (EmPS) to enhance inmates’ employability and help them secure jobs after release.

This will replace the current Work Release Scheme, which only allows suitable inmates to work outside prison, but not participate in educational or training activities to upskill themselves. 

An inmate will be eligible for EmPS if they have served at least 14 days of imprisonment, and the Commissioner of Prisons considers them suitable based on factors such as their progress and response to rehabilitation, family support and risk of reoffending. 

THREE PHASES UNDER THE NEW SCHEME

The EmPS comprises three phases: In-camp phase, weekend home leave phase and long home leave phase. 

Under the in-camp phase, inmates may work, upskill themselves through training or pursue their education outside prison during the day, and return to reside at a “work release centre” in the evening, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said in a press release. 

Inmates who “show good progress” during the in-camp phase will be permitted to move on to the weekend home leave phase, added MHA.

In this phase, inmates can return to their place of residence during weekends. 

In the long home leave phase, inmates can return to their place of residence every day after work, educational classes or skills training. 

Throughout the EmPS, inmates will receive support from the prisons on their “reintegration needs” subject to conditions, such as electronic monitoring and regular reporting to their reintegration officer, the ministry added. 

Those who breach the conditions can be recalled to prison pending an inquiry into the breach or have their EmPS order revoked. 

ENHANCING COMMUNITY CORRECTIONS 

A few proposed amendments to Prisons Act were also tabled on Monday, seeking to help the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) better administer community corrections where supervisees are concerned.

Supervisees refer to inmates placed on community-based programmes. 

One such amendment would give SPS “alternative means” to notify supervisees of changes made to the conditions of their community-based programmes. The law currently requires a written notification. This will be expanded to include SMS and messaging apps if the amendment goes through.

Second, the Home Affairs Ministry is proposing to provide SPS officers with “powers to obtain documents or information from third parties” when they make inquiries into breaches of conditions by supervisees. 

SPS officers are currently not able to compel third parties to produce documents or information as such requests are not rooted in legislation, which has resulted in some third parties not acceding to these requests, said MHA. 

“Granting such powers to SPS officers will strengthen SPS’ investigation processes and allow SPS to adequately conduct an inquiry into breaches.” 

For example, under this proposed amendment, SPS would be able to legally compel an owner of a premise to share their CCTV footage to ascertain if there was a breach of condition by the supervisee. 

In a related amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act, the Bill seeks to grant SPS officers similar powers to assist them in conducting inquiries into breaches of conditions by supervisees from the Drug Rehabilitation Centre and Community Rehabilitation Centre. 

EXTEND GRACE PERIOD TO METE OUT PUNISHMENT

The Home Affairs Ministry said it is also tabling several amendments in the Bill to help SPS in its “operational and administrative flexibility”. 

First, the Bill proposes to allow the Commissioner of Prisons to defer an inmate’s release by up to 21 days, instead of the current 14, to carry out any outstanding court-ordered punishment. These punishments primarily involve corporal punishment. 

An inmate may file an appeal against his conviction and sentence within 14 days after the date of the sentence. Caning must not be carried out until after this 14-day grace period even if no appeal is filed. 

This means that if an offender is due for release within 14 days of sentencing – which typically happens when the court backdates a sentence and the offender has already served a period of remand – SPS needs to seek a court order to extend the inmate’s detention for the punishment to be carried out. 

The proposed amendment of 21 days allows SPS to have “sufficient time to carry out the punishment” after the 14-day grace period, without needing to seek a court order, said MHA. 

WITHHOLD COMMUNICATION, INFORMATION DISSEMINATION

Second, the Bill proposes to allow the Minister for Home Affairs to make regulations to redact or withhold inmates’ correspondence that may affect the “security or good order” of prisons, or “incite the commission of any offence”. 

A similar amendment seeks to allow the minister to require prescribed persons to undertake that they will not publish or disseminate such information before they are allowed to communicate with an inmate. 

Such correspondence may include drawings depicting an escape plan from prison, information related to the security installations in prison and coded messages for starting a prison disturbance. 

There are currently no restrictions on whether a person can publish or disseminate any information that was obtained during communication with an inmate. 

This will allow SPS to be “more effective in maintaining prison security” and ensure the safe and secure custody of inmates, said MHA. 

“EXPLICIT” PROTECTION FOR OFFICERS

Third, the Bill proposes to “make explicit” the protection for 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” during the execution of the Prisons Act. 

Currently, these officers rely on the “defence of necessity” under common law. But the proposed amendment, with its explicit protection of these officers, will help them carry out their lawful duties with “greater assurance”, said MHA. 

“For avoidance of doubt, officers are not exempt from the ordinary process of law if they are criminally negligent or have abused their powers,” the ministry added. 

Finally, the Bill seeks to update the definition of “juvenile” to refer to a person under the age of 18, as compared to the current age of 16. 

This will align with the revised definition under the Children and Young Persons (Amendment) Act 2019.

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