Contributor(s)Think Centre / Prison Insider

Specific population

As of mid-2016, the prison population was 12,722 prisoners, (data from the Asian and Pacific Conference of Correctional Administrators). Women represented 10.5% of the prison population. Foreign nationals represented 9.9%.

The Changi Prison Complex, with 23,000 places, holds most of the prison population of the country.

Some 4,000 new arrivals are processed every month. New inmates are assigned to Cluster B Registry of the Changi Prison Complex.

As of 31 December 2015, 10.1% of the prison population was in pre-trial detention.

Inmates are classified according to their security risks and rehabilitation needs. First-time offenders are assigned to ‘first-timer’ cells. Inmates are constantly being rotated into different cells.

As of September 2013, with an official capacity of 16,249 places, the penitentiary system’s occupancy level stood at 79.2% (latest figures available).

Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. According to UN data, Singapore has the second lowest murder rate in the world. Only 14 people were murdered in 2013 in a country with a population of 5.1 million. Similarly sized countries, like Finland and Slovakia, had 89 and 58 murders that same year respectively.

However, the prison population rate is alarmingly high, and stands at 222 prisoners per 100,000 people. It is the seventh highest in Asia and the second highest in Southeast Asia, after Thailand.

The average sentence length is considered far above average. Jaywalking can carry jail sentences of up to six months. Vandalism can carry jail sentences of up to three years, and three to eight strokes of a cane for second-time offenders.

The prison population rate reached its peak between 2002 and 2004, and rose to 394 inmates per 100,000 people. This increase took place in the midst of one of the worst economic crises of the country’s modern history. In 2001, 25,600 workers lost their employment, most of them from manufacturing industries.

Pre-trial detainees

10.1 %

/ World Prison Brief

Female prisoners

10.5 %

/ World Prison Brief

According to section 82 of the Criminal Code, the age of criminal liability is 7 years old. However, from 7 to 12 years, there must be proof of maturity and understanding of the offence to hold the minor responsible. The juvenile justice system is applicable until the age of 21, although juveniles 16 to 18 years old may be charged as adults for certain offences.

The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) is responsible for the juvenile justice system.

In 2015, 302 minors were admitted into a Youth Residential Centre (215 boys and 87 girls).

Imprisonment for young offenders must be used as a last resort. Sentences are based on a graduated system of sanctions. Measures can include:

  • fines imposed to parents
  • Community Service Order (CSO) from 40 to 240 hours
  • Weekend Detention Order (WDO) where offenders must spend up to 52 weekends in a detention centre
  • probation for 6 to 36 months. Juvenile offenders must comply with rigourous checks and participate in rehabilitation programs and family therapy. This measure is used in conjunction with CSO or WDO.

Juvenile offenders who breach community-based programs may received an institutionalized sentence:

  • detention in a youth residential centre for up to six months
  • residence in an approved school, such as Singapore Boys’ or Girls’ home, for up to three years
  • youths over 16 years old can be assigned to a reformative training order in prison for up to 3 years. Minors 14 to 16 years old, considered “unfit” in an approved school, may also be sentenced to reformative training in prison.

Juvenile prisoners

3.2 %

/ World Prison Brief

As of mid-2016, 1,259 foreign nationals (9.9% of the prison population) were incarcerated in Singapore.

Overstaying in the country without a visa by more than three months is liable to a minimum three-month prison sentence and a mandatory caning of at least three strokes (depending on how long the offender overstayed).

Offenders are generally assigned to medium- or minimum-security prisons.

Foreign prisoners

9.9 %

/ World Prison Brief

Section 377a of the penal code criminalizes “any act of gross indecency with another male person”. Offenders risk a prison sentence of up to two years.

Nine people were convicted under 377a between 2007 and 2013. In most cases, this law is only enforced as an aggravating circumstance for offences such as molestation or rape.

Historically, the Internal Security Act (ISA)1 has been the instrument allowing the Singaporean government to exert oppression over political dissidents, targeting communist sympathizers, especially during the second half of the 20th century. Chia Thye Poh, for example, was imprisoned for 23 years without charges, accused of conducting pro-communist activities.

Cases of political detention still occur but are less common. The ISA is now mostly used to detain suspects of Islamic terrorism. For these cases, investigations tend to be opaque and fair public trials are not assured.

The Sedition Act criminalizes seditious acts and speech, as well as the printing, publication, sale, distribution, reproduction and importation of seditious publications. Sanctions include fines of up to S$5,000 and up to three years of imprisonment.

In September 2015, 17-year-old blogger Amos Yee was sentenced to six weeks in prison and a S$1,400 fine, for posting videos on social media that “wounded religious feeling”. He was tried as an adult and was held in Block 7, where prisoners suffering from mental illness are placed. He spent 23 hours a day inside his cell, where lights and security cameras were always on. The United States government granted him asylum in March 2017.

Yang Kaiheng and Ai Takagi, founders of the online news portal The Real Singapore, were sentenced to prison, in March 2016. They pleaded guilty to sedition for publishing articles with allegedly “anti-foreign” content. Yang Kaiheng received an eight-month sentence. Ai Takagi, who was pregnant during the trial, received a ten-month sentence and suffered a miscarriage while in prison.