fbpx

Indictments from our prison system

The following is an excerpt from an article published in Yawning Bread

Alex Au

Singapore is not uniformly majority Chinese with Indians and Malays as the other two significant minority groups. Depending on where and when you look, you can get a different mix. Most of the time, it is of little significance, but sometimes there is reason to ask if more underlies what we see.

Peter Lloyd made an observation in his book Inside Story, based on his experience spending time in Singapore’s prison system. Three in four inmates, he wrote, were Malays and Indians. Behind bars, the Chinese were a minority. Undeniably, his observation was not broad data-based, but drawn from what he could see around him when he himself was a prisoner. On the other hand, the Singapore public doesn’t get much data either; the Prison Service’s website (www.prisons.gov.sg) provides no statistics. There is no easy way I can disprove him.

Lloyd, a well-known correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation with a track record covering the October 2002 Bali bombing and the attempted assassination of Benazir Bhutto in October 2007, was arrested in Singapore in July 2008 and subsequently sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment for possession (of 0.51 grams) and consumption of methamphetamine (Page 75). With time-off for good behaviour, he served five and a half months in Tanah Merah gaol.

His data sample was not large. At any given time, he mixed around with only a few other inmates. Singapore’s prison system, for example, does not have large mess halls. In the interest of security, prisoners are confined to smallish groups called “landings” — I suppose it means the group of prisoners who share the same cluster of cells and exercise yard. Nonetheless, over the months, as prisoners were released and new ones came in, he might have seen a fair number. Furthermore, he met others when he was (twice) in Queenstown Remand Prison in the initial stages, and for a few weeks at Tanah Merah, he conducted several sessions with inmates from other parts of the prison on anger management.

In his book, this observation is a springboard for some ranting about how the Chinese in Singapore lord over the other races, supported by a few juicy quotes he attributes to non-Chinese prison officers themselves. But this should not distract from the nagging questions his observations pose. Is it true that Malays and Indians are a disproportionate number of inmates in our prison system? Does that indicate bias in sentencing? Alternatively, in the absence of bias, does that indicate that Malays and Indians are becoming a permanent underclass.

To read on, click here.