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Prison CP - August 2007

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The New Paper, Singapore, 20 August 2007

Commit a serious offence in prison? You risk a caning

It's a little-known fact that prisons can give inmates a rotan sentence

By Andre Yeo

IF time in prison was meant to change him, it didn't work.

While behind bars, John (not his real name) challenged a rival gang member to a fight.

He spent time in solitary confinement but refused to renounce his gangsterism.

John was then hauled before a prisons hearing and ordered to be given six strokes of the cane.

A judge can sentence a convicted person to be given up to 24 strokes of the cane for certain grave crimes like rape.

If the convicts gets into serious trouble in prison, the law allows him to be given up to another 24 strokes.

It's a little known fact of the criminal justice system.

Offences in prison which may invoke the rotan are serious ones: fighting, rioting and being involved in gang activities.

Gang members, while serving time in prison, can be caned if found guilty of continuing to engage in gang activities, like gang fights, drawing of gang signs, shouting gang slogans and planning or engaging in assault on rival gangs or prison officers.

However, the Singapore Prison Service said such punishment is rarely meted out.

Unlike the court system, where a judge decides on the punishment, in prison, it's the superintendent of the prison who decides.

In June, The New Paper ran a report on how some convicts joined gangs in prison and even got into gang fights.

They can be placed in solitary confinement, have their family visits reduced or removed, and have their time behind bars extended by months.

In addition to all that, prisoners can also be caned for committing offences under the Prisons Act.

Responding to queries by The New Paper on Sunday, the Prison Service said the punishments were necessary to maintain order and discipline within the prisons.

It said: 'A breakdown in discipline and order in a prison can lead to a prison riot where lives will be at stake.'

It added that effective control of prison inmates would ensure an environment that was safe for inmates, prison staff and volunteers.

Offences that can result in punishment include mutiny, escape or attempt to escape, assaulting any officer or fellow prisoner, and destruction of prison property.

The superintendent can punish any prisoner by ordering him to be caned, but only up to 12 strokes.

Corporal punishment cannot be meted to women, those sentenced to death, or those above 50.

The Prison Service said there were enough checks to ensure the superintendent does not abuse the power vested in him.


In an e-mail reply, it said that though the superintendent can mete out corporal punishment, it must be approved by the Director of Prisons.

It added: 'Safeguards are in place and rigorously observed.

'Every charge against an inmate must be thoroughly investigated by the Security and Provost Unit and not by the officers in the same work unit of the complainant.

'This separation is to ensure impartiality.'

The superintendent will receive the results of the investigation and will give the inmate concerned an opportunity to be heard before him.

Based on the evidence, the superintendent will decide if an offence has been committed, if punishment is warranted, and if so, in what form.

Every case where corporal punishment is recommended is reviewed by the Director of Prisons.

He then confirms or varies the punishment and inmates can appeal to him against the punishment.

The e-mail added: 'The use of corporal punishment in Prisons is carried out and applied judiciously.

'It is only imposed on a very small number of inmates who commit serious or aggravated offences.'

It did not provide figures on the number of prisoners who had been punished this way, or their offences.

Inmates can also complain against any punishment to visiting justices. who are eminent citizens with the authority to make surprise inspections on the conditions of prisons.

The visiting justices can also order a prisoner to be given up to 24 strokes of the cane, twice the number the superintendent is authorised to give.

Criminal lawyer Gloria James said prisoners are not allowed to engage lawyers to appeal against their punishments meted out in prison.

They can only appeal against a conviction in the courts.

She felt prisoners should be allowed to see lawyers if they have been found guilty of offences committed in prison.

But criminal lawyer Mark Goh said he had never heard of prison officers abusing their power.

He said: 'The Prison Service adopts the attitude of rehabilitation and not punishment.'

Copyright 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd.

blob Follow-up: 15 September 2008 - New check on punishing prisoners

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