Speech by Mr. Louis Ng Kok Kwang, MP for Nee Soon GRC, at the Second Reading of the Prisons (Amendment) Bill (Bill No. 38/2021)
Mdm, the amendments in this Bill will promote inmates’ rehabilitation and reintegration into society.
I previously shared in this House the inspirational stories I heard from ex-offenders and how “family” was the one word they used most frequently in their stories. I also spoke about how I strongly believe that strengthening family ties is important to improve the rehabilitation process for inmates.
I am supportive of the amendments in this Bill, which not only sends a signal about the focus on rehabilitation, but also provides a concrete framework for achieving it.
I have three points of clarification.
Eligibility for employment preparation
My first point is about eligibility for employment preparation.
The new section 59L provides that a prisoner is eligible to be released for employment preparation if the prisoner has served not less than 14 days.
Can Minister clarify whether this 14-day period includes any time that has been spent in remand?
Can Minister share at what stage of the imprisonment would the Commissioner assess a prisoner’s suitability for employment?
Should a prisoner be initially assessed as unsuitable, when will the prisoner next be re-assessed?
My second point is about the categorisation of prison offences.
The new sections 72 and 73 set out minor and aggravated prison offences.
Each section includes broad, catch-all offences. For instance, it is a minor prison offence to carry out any “act, conduct, disorder or neglect to the prejudice of good order or discipline in the prison”. It is an aggravated prison offence to carry out any “act of gross misconduct or insubordination”.
But it is not clear that acts that are prejudicial to the good order or discipline in the prison are any less severe than acts of gross misconduct or insubordination.
To help clarify the differences between minor and aggravated prison offences, can Minister provide examples of acts that would fall under the catch-all minor and aggravated prison offences?
Can Minister also clarify if the Superintendent has final authority in determining whether the offence committed is a minor or aggravated prison offences and whether the Commissioner has the authority to disagree with the Superintendent’s categorisation of an offence as a minor or aggravated offence?
Exceptions to prison offences
My third point is about exceptions to prison offences.
The Ministry has said the new Employment Preparation Scheme will include an in-camp phase during which inmates may work or study outside prison during the day and return to reside at a “work release centre” in the evening.
Can Minister clarify if prison offences conducted at work, study and residence locations under the scheme would be deemed to be within prison?
This is significant, as certain prison offences do not apply to prisoners serving their sentences outside prison.
Would it no longer be an aggravated prison offence for a prisoner to assault another prisoner while working together outside prison under the scheme?
Can Minister also clarify why it is no longer a prison offence for a prisoner to carry out aggravated or repeated assault on any other prisoner, or wilfully causing themselves any illness, injury, or disability if a prisoner is outside of prison under the scheme?
In summary, I hope the Minister can clarify my points on assessing a prisoner’s eligibility for employment preparation, determining the severity of prison offences, providing exceptions to prison offences, and stating the right against self-incrimination.
Mdm, notwithstanding my clarifications, I stand in support of the Bill.
Watch the speech here.