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Prison system in Singapore - statistics & facts

Singapore boasts a reputation for being one of the safest cities in the world, yet it has a relatively high prison population rate that seems rather disproportionate to its low crime rate. As of 2015, Singapore’s prison population rate was only second to Thailand out of the Asia-Pacific countries. Even so, the incarceration rate is nowhere near that of the United States or any of the top twenty countries with the highest prison population rate.

Prison as a deterrence for would-be criminals

The relatively high prison population rate in Singapore is in large part due to the strict penalties imposed on those caught for drug offenses in Singapore. Like its Southeast Asian neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia, Singapore has a tough-on-drugs approach. In 2019, approximately two-thirds of the prison population were incarcerated due to drug offences. Drug abusers are liable for imprisonment from the third offense onwards, facing up to a maximum of thirteen years in prison and a maximum of 12 strokes of the cane regardless of the class of drug being abused. Possession of a certain amount of drugs carry a mandatory death sentence. In 2019, two people were executed in Singapore for drug trafficking.

Prison sentences in Singapore, as with most other countries, are used as a form of punishment and deterrence for committing crimes. However, in recent years, the emphasis has been shifted from punishment to rehabilitation. Inmates in Singapore are offered vocational and academic training to prepare them for life beyond prison. This has contributed to keeping the recidivism rate in Singapore relatively low. In the past ten years, the percentage of released inmates reoffending within two years after their release has remained at under 30 percent.

Capital punishment still has strong support in Singapore

However, prison sentences are not the only types of punishment meted out by the justice system. Singapore still carries out judicial corporal punishment in the form of caning, as well as capital punishment for three types of crimes: murder, drug trafficking, and crimes carried out with firearms. Drug trafficking is the most common crime for which capital punishment is handed out.

A recent survey on Singaporeans found that as a whole, society was still largely in support of capital punishment, especially for drug trafficking. This can be attributed to the tough anti-drug and anti-crime discourse in the country. The media in Singapore rarely reports on judicial corporal punishment, although capital punishment do get more media coverage. Even so, capital punishment is seen as necessary deterrent to keep Singapore’s drug offenses low.

Interesting statistics

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Penal system in Singapore

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Admissions and arrests

Prison demographics


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