Singapore Prison Service

Singapore Infopedia


The Singapore Prison Service (SPS) is a government agency under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Headquartered at 407 Upper Changi Road North, it administers 14 institutions in Singapore.1 In addition to ensuring the secure custody of inmates, the prison service works to help them turn over a new leaf and re-integrate into society upon their release.2 Since 1999, it has adopted the slogan “Captains of Lives” to reflect its shift away from being purely a custodian of prisoners.3 As “captains” of the lives of those in its custody, the agency sees itself as being instrumental in guiding ex-offenders towards becoming responsible and productive members of society.4

Roles and responsibilities
The basic function of the SPS is to keep offenders in custody. In addition, it assists other crime-fighting agencies in the detection and prevention of criminal activities by passing on valuable information obtained through its daily interaction with inmates and by conducting education programmes aimed at deterring youths and children from committing crimes.5 Another major role that has been given increasing emphasis is the rehabilitation of former offenders. The objective of rehabilitation is to prevent crime by minimising recidivism.6

Singapore’s prison service has a long history that began in April 1825 with the arrival of the first batch of penal convicts from other British colonies. The British built a total of four prisons here, the last being Changi Prison in 1936.
The penal philosophy adopted by the prison service had changed over the years. In the beginning, imprisonment was seen mainly as a deterrent measure, a way to discourage former and potential offenders from engaging in illegal activities through fear of punishment. However, the philosophy adopted today is based on the belief that prisoners can be reformed and rehabilitated so that they will avoid criminal behaviour after their release, not because they are afraid of punishment but because they have genuinely changed for the better.8

The shift in approach began in the 1940s.9 Work programmes were introduced during this period, with the primary objective of teaching prisoners a trade that could help them earn an honest living after their release. The activities of the prison industries at the time included farming, carpentry, tailoring, shoe repair, printing and laundering.10 On 1 July 1957, the Reformative Training Centre was opened to carry out reformative training for young offenders aged 16 to 21.11 Education was a compulsory component of the programme, with the various classes conducted by qualified teachers.12 Today, education and vocational training remain important aspects of the rehabilitation process.13

The prison service has continually sought new ways to improve the effectiveness of its rehabilitation programme. Among its initiatives are tele-visiting and home detention. In recognition of the importance of family support, tele-visits via video-conferencing were introduced in 1999 to make it easier for family members to maintain communication with inmates.14 To facilitate the involvement of family and community in the rehabilitation of criminal offenders, the Home Detention Scheme was implemented in 2000.15 Under this scheme, eligible prisoners are allowed to serve out their jail time at home, provided they comply with the stipulated curfew hours.16

The SPS currently administers 14 institutions that make up its line units. They are grouped under three clusters and a command: Clusters A and B are housed within the Changi Prison Complex; Cluster C encompasses Admiralty West Prison, Changi Women’s Prison and Tanah Merah Prison; and the Community Corrections Command oversees community supervision and reintegration. In addition to these, the Operations and Security Command oversees and manages security at the Changi Prison Complex, the Prison Link Centres and the Singapore Prisons Emergency Response Force.17

A centralised school for inmates is located at Kaki Bukit Centre. The Prison School is a place where inmates from the various establishments can come together to study, attend classes and sit for examinations. Among other things, it offers the G.C.E. “N”, “O” and “A” Levels, vocational courses as well as enrichment activities and life-skills programmes.18

1825: First batch of penal convicts arrive in Singapore and are housed in temporary huts along Bras Basah Canal. The penal philosophy is based on punishment rather than rehabilitation.
1847: The Civil Jail at Pearl’s Hill is built.19
1882: Her Majesty’s Service (HMS) Criminal Jail is built beside the Civil Jail. The two jails are jointly administered as Outram Prison.20
1936: Changi Prison is built.21
1946: The prison service is institutionalised as a department and G. E. W. W. Bayly becomes the first Commissioner of Prisons.22
1948: The Singapore Prison Enquiry Commission is set up to review the administration of penal institutions, and advocates a new philosophy of reform and rehabilitation.23
1955: Opium Treatment Centre opens on St John’s Island for the custody and treatment of opium addicts.24

1957: Reformative Training Centre opens to carry out reformative training for young offenders.25
1960: A Prisons Inquiry Commission is set up to review the existing prison system.26 / The Commission publishes its report, and emphasises a reformative/rehabilitative approach.27 / A rehabilitation settlement is set up on Pulau Senang for criminal law detainees. It is a bold experiment in penal rehabilitation where prisoners are allowed to roam freely and tasked with developing the island into an attractive settlement for themselves.28
1963: Outbreak of riots by detainees on Pulau Senang. The superintendent and three officers are killed, and many buildings destroyed. The island settlement is closed as a penal institution.29
1973: The Opium Treatment Centre at St John’s Island is converted into Singapore’s first Drug Rehabilitation Centre.30
1974: Prisons Reorganisation Committee is formed to review the system of rehabilitation, and recommends several measures to help reduce recidivism.31
1980: The prison service adopts a new strategy based on the key principles of segregation and rehabilitation to reduce recidivism.32
1994: The official opening of Tanah Merah Prison and Changi Women’s Prison/ Drug Rehabilitation Centre.
31 Dec 1999: Ground-breaking ceremony for the Changi Prison Complex is held, marking the official start of construction.
3 Jan 2000: Prison School in Kaki Bukit Centre commences operations.33
2004: The Yellow Ribbon Project is launched to engage the community in giving ex-offenders a second chance at life.34
16 Aug 2004: Changi Prison Cluster A officially opens.35
20 Jan 2010: Changi Prison Cluster B officially opens.36
2014: The Community Rehabilitation Centre is launched to help first-time young male drug offenders.
2015: SPS adopts a new mission – “As a correctional agency, we enforce secure custody of offenders and rehabilitate them, for a safe Singapore”.37


Valerie Chew

1. “Contact Info,” Singapore Prison Service, accessed 12 November 2016; “Organisation,” Singapore Prison Service, accessed 4 July 2016.
2. Singapore Prisons Service, Prison Service Annual 1992 (Singapore: Prison Service, 1993), 26–27. (Call no. RSING 365.95957 SPDPSA)
3. Singapore Prison Service, Collaboration: Singapore Prison Service Annual Report 2015 (Singapore: Prison Service, 2015), 13.
4. “Captains of Lives,” Singapore Prison Service, accessed 12 November 2016.
5. Singapore Prison Service, Captions of Lives: Singapore Prison Service Annual Report 2008 (Singapore: Prison Service, 2009), 1, 14, 21.
6. Singapore Prisons Service, Prison Service Annual 1992, 33.
7. “The Prison Story,” Singapore Prison Service, accessed 12 November 2016.
8. Singapore Prisons Service, Prison Service Annual 1992, 26–27.
9. Singapore Prisons Service, Prison Service Annual 1992, 24.
10. Singapore, Annual Report 1950 (Singapore: Government Printing Office, 1951), 124. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 SIN)
11. Singapore, Annual Report 1957 (Singapore: Government Printing Office, 1958), 204. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 SIN)
12. Singapore, Annual Report 1963 (Singapore: Government Printing Office, 1964), 216. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 SIN)
13. “Rehabilitation Process,” Singapore Prison Service, accessed 11 January 2017.
14. Singapore Prisons Service, Prison Service Annual 1999 (Singapore: Prison Service, 2000). (Call no. RSING 365.95957 SPDPSA)
15. “More Prisoners to Serve Jail Time at Home, under Expanded Home Detention Scheme,” Channel NewsAsia, 27 September 2004. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
16. Yeoh En-Lai and Karamjit Kaur, “Tag and Release for 40 Convicts,” Straits Times, 26 March 2000, 34. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Singapore Prison Service, “Organisation.”
18. Singapore Prison Service, Corrections A Journey: Singapore Prison Service Annual Report 2014 (Singapore: Prison Service, 2015), 94; Singapore Prisons Service, Prison Service Annual 2000 (Singapore: Prison Service, 2001), 71. (Call no. RSING 365.95957 SPDPSA)
19. Singapore Prison Service, “The Prison Story.”
20. Singapore Prisons Service, Prison Service Annual 1992, 28.
21. “Singapore’s New $2,000,000 Prison,” Straits Times, 13 December 1936, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Singapore Prison Service, “The Prison Story.”
23. Singapore Prisons Service, Prison Service Annual 1992, 24.
24. Patricia Morgan, “Whole World Watches this S'pore Experiment,” Straits Times, 5 February 1955, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
25. Singapore, Annual Report 1957, 204.
26. Singapore Prisons Service, Prison Service Annual 1990 (Singapore: Prison Service, 1993), 48. (Call no. RSING 365.95957 SPDPSA)
27. Singapore Prisons Service, Prison Service Annual 1990, 48.
28. Robert Chew and Alex Josey, “How Project Was Defeated By Its Very Own Success,” Straits Times, 28 June 1980, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
29. Singapore, Annual Report 1963, 212; Singapore, Annual Report 1964 (Singapore: Government Printing Office, 1964), 176. (Call no. RCLOS 959.57 SIN)
30. Singapore Prisons Service, Prison Service Annual 1990, 48.
31. Singapore Prison Service, “Prison Story.”
32. Singapore Prisons Service, Prison Service Annual 1990, 51.
33. Singapore Prison Service, “Prison Story.”
34. Singapore Prison Service, Annual Report 2015, 15.
35. Tanya Fong, “New Changi Prison Goes High-Tech,” Straits Times, 17 August 2004, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
36. Singapore Prison Service, “The Prison Story.”
37. Singapore Prison Service,  Annual Report 2015, 15.

The information in this article is valid as of 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.





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