Families of death row inmates allowed to visit inmate more frequently but informed less than a week before execution?

Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development, Desmond Lee stated that after being notified of the date on which the sentence would be carried out for a death-row inmate, the inmate’s family is allowed to visit the inmate more frequently, and for an extended period of time at each visit.

This is his response to questions filed on 6 February by NMP Kok Heng Leun who asked the Minister for Home Affairs whether families of death row inmates can be provided with at least three weeks’ notice before the sentence is carried out to allow them sufficient time to come to terms with the sentence and make necessary arrangements, what processes are in place to help such families deal with the trauma of the loss of their loved ones, and whether family members of death row inmates can be allowed to have physical contact during the last few visits after the date of execution has been set.

The Minister said that the Singapore Prison Service facilitates requests from the inmate and his family as much as possible, while ensuring safety and security of inmates and their families.

However, he added that physical contact has not been allowed for reasons connected with safety.

Mr Desmond then said that there will be a period of time between conviction and the carrying out of the sentence, to allow the full legal process to be completed, including any clemency petition. Throughout the inmates’ stay in prison, families visit the inmates and also communicate with them.

“Inmates are also notified at every stage of the legal and clemency process,” he added.

The Minister also said that counsellors are also attached to each family to support them during the period leading up to and after the carrying out of the sentence.

Family of death-row inmates informed less than a week before execution

Commenting on the issue, We Believe in Second Chances , a local Non-government Organisation that campaigns against the death penalty, said, “In our experience, the family of a death row inmate is informed of the execution (always held on Friday) on the Monday of the same week. This leaves them with less than a week to visit the inmate, make funeral arrangements and come to terms with the impending death of a loved one.”

It noted that low-income families who do not live in Singapore face even more challenges. “Giving the family three weeks’ advance notice – as suggested in Parliament by NMP Kok Heng Leun – would allow more to ensure that families have the proper time, space and support to deal with an imminent execution.” said the NGO.

“The death penalty is the harshest and most final punishment that can be meted out to an individual, and also has a huge impact on the family of the convicted.” –  We Believe in Second Chances

Kirsten Han, a freelance journalist and member of Second Chances said that when it comes to physical contact it is not clear what the security concern is and perhaps the ministry should explain. She noted that in the case of Nguyen van Tuong, a special exception was made for his mother to be able to touch his hand before he was executed.

She also noted that they have heard that there are counsellors for the families but not sure when that is offered, because the families they work with don’t seem to mention them.

TOC has written to SMOS Desmond Lee for his comment on Second Chances’ input on the issue