Death of Inmate in Prison

Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs (a) whether the Singapore Prison Service’s restraining methods on inmates pose a continuing risk of fatal or permanent injury; and (b) whether there have been any changes to the restraining methods following the death of an inmate due to positional asphyxia.

I asked the Minister for Home Affairs these questions in Parliament on 12 August 2013 regarding the death of prison inmate Dinesh Raman in September 2010.

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12 Mr Ang Wei Neng asked the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs in light of the recent case where a senior prison officer was convicted of causing the death of an inmate by a negligent act (a) whether the deceased’s next-of-kin will be compensated and, if so, how will they be compensated; and (b) whether there was a delay in the investigation process given that the senior prison officer was charged in court almost three years after the inmate’s death.

13 Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song asked the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs (a) whether the Singapore Prison Service’s restraining methods on inmates pose a continuing risk of fatal or permanent injury; and (b) whether there have been any changes to the restraining methods following the death of an inmate due to positional asphyxia.

14 Mr Pritam Singh asked the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs regarding the recent case where a senior prison officer is convicted of causing the death of an inmate by a negligent act, why is the Ministry’s Committee of Inquiry looking into the circumstances surrounding the inmate’s death which occurred in September 2010 only able to submit its report in June 2013.

The Second Minister for Home Affairs (Mr S Iswaran) (for the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs) : Mdm Speaker, may I have your permission to take questions 12, 13 and 14 together.

Mdm Speaker : Yes, please.

Mr S Iswaran : Madam, all three questions concern the unfortunate death of a prison inmate, Dinesh Raman s/o Chinnaiah, who passed away on 27 September 2010 after he was restrained and relocated to a cell, following his unprovoked attack on a prison officer.

Madam, every case of death in prisons is taken seriously. Apart from the Singapore Prison Service’s own investigations, the Police conducts independent criminal investigations to establish the circumstances and cause of death; determine whether any criminal offences have been committed; and identify the persons responsible for the incident. The Police’s investigation findings and recommendations are then submitted to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) to consider whether prosecutorial action is to be taken.

In addition to the Police’s criminal investigations, my Ministry will thoroughly review the incident, especially the actions of all parties involved, and the appropriateness of protocols and processes adopted by the Singapore Prison Service (Prison Service). Our aim is to ensure the safety and security of inmates and prison officers, and to maintain the integrity of our prison system of strict discipline and order.

Madam, let me first set out the timeline of events to put the incident, and the actions that followed, in perspective.
Prison Service reported Dinesh Raman’s death to my Ministry on 27 September 2010, the same day of the incident. Police commenced criminal investigations immediately. Separately, the Prison Service reviewed their processes and procedures for the use of Control & Restraint (C&R) techniques. The prison officers directly involved in the incident were redeployed from operational to staff duties, pending the outcome of investigations. The Police completed its preliminary investigations and referred its findings to the Coroner, who convened a Mention session on 4 November 2010. The Coroner’s Mention formally commences a public inquiry into the circumstances of a death.

On 17 August 2012, the Police submitted its consolidated findings to AGC. On 4 February 2013, after reviewing the findings and further clarification with the Police, AGC decided to take prosecutorial action.

On 1 March 2013, the Police informed Minister for Home Affairs that the investigations had been completed. After being briefed by the Police on its findings, the Minister decided to appoint a Committee of Inquiry (COI) to conduct an independent audit of Prisons’ broader systems, processes and protocols for bringing violent inmates under control. On 4 June 2013, Minister for Home Affairs accepted the findings and recommendations of the Committee of Inquiry and directed Prison Service to implement them immediately. All the recommendations have since been implemented, or are in the process of being completed.

The charge against a Senior Prisons Officer, who was the direct supervising officer of the incident, was heard in court on 19 July 2013. DSP Lim Kwo Yin pleaded guilty to the charge of Causing Death by a Negligent Act and was fined $10,000.
Madam, it took 28 months from the commencement of Police investigations to the Attorney General’s decision to prosecute. This was due to the complexity of the case. Let me elaborate.

The police investigations included a thorough study of the Control & Restraint doctrine, training, protocols and techniques used in prison; it entailed meeting external experts, both domestic and international, to seek professional views and an assessment on the C&R techniques deployed; and it involved interviews with 130 witnesses comprising 72 prison inmates, 23 prison officers, eight prison medical staff, seven police officers, two CISCO officers and Dinesh Raman’s next-of-kin. In total, the Police conducted 144 interviews. Police investigators also went to the United Kingdom to consult a C&R expert from the National Tactical Response Group, under the UK Ministry of Justice.

In comparison, the recent Shane Todd case, which took 13 months for the State Coroner to reach a verdict, involved 60 witnesses. That case did not involve criminal charges. Another example is the Yishun Triple Murder case of 19 September 2008, which concluded with a conviction four years later on 20 November 2012, and that involved 68 witnesses.

Madam, the prison environment is complex, and the risk of security incidents is real and present. Strict discipline and control is essential to maintain a safe and secure environment, for both inmates and prison officers. While the number of violent incidents in our prisons is low when compared with other jurisdictions, they do happen. Last year, there were 61 assaults by inmates, 40 of which were against other inmates and 21 against prison officers. We have zero tolerance for any violence or abuse that could adversely affect order and discipline in our prisons because it is the foundation for the effective rehabilitation of inmates.

To achieve this, our Prison officers are trained in Control & Restraint techniques, which involve using both defensive and control methods, to subdue a violent inmate swiftly, safely, and decisively. Our Prison Service adopted these team-based C&R techniques from the UK C&R Training Centre in June 1990. They have been adapted to our local prison environment, and are in line with international best practices in the UK, US and Hong Kong. C&R techniques follow a fixed procedure that involves teams of prison officers, each with a specific role or task. The procedure enables prison officers to use reasonable force in a controlled manner, to restrain and manage violent inmates, and to gain quick control over the incident with minimal injuries to all.

Over the last four years, our prison officers have had to use C&R techniques 331 times to deal with a range of violent incidents. Prior to the case of Dinesh Raman, no prison inmate had ever died or suffered serious injuries as a result of C&R techniques.

The COI assessed that the C&R techniques are safe, useful and appropriate for managing violent inmates, as long as safety precautions are observed. The COI did not find any malice in the actions of the prison officers involved in restraining Dinesh Raman. However, the COI identified specific areas of improvements, given the way the C&R techniques had been used in this incident. For example, the officers involved did not maintain constant communication with Dinesh Raman as required by the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), in order to monitor his overall condition. The COI also found that officers should have been more conscious of the risk that the C&R technique might cause positional asphyxia, and of how to prevent this from happening.

All our prison officers are trained in C&R techniques. In addition, officers directly managing inmates are required to undergo C&R recertification biennially. In response to the COI recommendations, the Prison Service has reviewed its C&R doctrines, instruction manuals and training materials to place greater emphasis on the risk of positional asphyxiation, and preventive measures. The Prison Service has also reviewed its recertification requirement to ensure that all supervising officers are covered, including the superintendents of prisons even though they may not need to directly apply C&R techniques themselves.

In addition, the Prison Service has introduced new protocols, such as applying C&R techniques on violent inmates in a standing position where possible, to reduce the risk of positional asphyxia. These new protocols have been adapted from other jurisdictions, such as the UK Prison System and the Hong Kong Correctional Services.

Following the conviction of the senior prison officer on 19 July 2013, MHA has been in touch with the family of Dinesh Raman and their lawyer to discuss the family’s concerns, as well as the matter of compensation. AGC has informed the family and its lawyer in writing that the Government accepts liability and will compensate the family. As discussions are on-going, I am not able to provide details.

In closing, the COI has found that the Prison Service’s overall system and processes for managing violent inmates are appropriate, safe and effective. The COI made recommendations to improve specific aspects of the C&R techniques, which have since been acted upon.

MHA recognises that maintaining order and discipline for the safety and security of inmates and prison officers, is a difficult and challenging task. Nevertheless, we expect prison officers to perform their duties with integrity and professionalism. It is important that the Prison Service has a team of disciplined and well trained officers who obey the law, and manage inmates conscientiously according to rules and procedures.

We take a serious view of any professional misconduct, procedural lapses, neglect or excess of duty by prison commanders and officers, and will take firm action against them according to the law and civil service disciplinary processes. This is important in order to maintain public confidence in the institutions, and also in the people who continue to serve in them.

With the conclusion of the court case, MHA has initiated disciplinary action against the superintendent, supervisors and other officers involved in the incident.

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Mdm Speaker : Mr Gerald Giam.

Mr Gerald Giam Yean Song : I have got three supplementary questions. I would also like to extend my condolences to the family of Dinesh Raman. My reason for asking my original question was because I am concerned that even the approved Control & Restraint (C&R) techniques risk fatal or permanent injuries to inmates. So my first question is: was the restraining technique that caused the death of inmate Dinesh Raman on 27 September 2010 an approved technique? Secondly, has Prisons factored in the possibility that a combination of C&R techniques, even though they may be individually approved, could cause fatalities? Lastly, will the review of the C&R doctrine in Prisons apply to the Police and other security services so as to ensure that there is no repetition of such a tragedy, Government-wide?

Mr S Iswaran : I want to thank the Member for his questions. Madam, let me first re-state findings of the Committee of Inquiry, for the record. The findings were that the control and restraint method used in the Prisons is safe, effective and appropriate. The application in this instance may have had certain aspects that were wanting but the overall system and process were found to be appropriate, safe and effective.

Prisons adopted this system, as I said, from the UK system in 1990, and regularly reviews the system according to our own operating environment and also taking reference from any key developments in other jurisdictions. This is no different. In fact, Prisons reviewed it periodically and adapted one of the techniques in 2005 as a result of some changes in international norms, especially in the UK. So the C&R technique regime was applicable at the time of Dinesh Raman’s passing, were up-to-date based on Prisons’ active review of the processes. Whether a combination of techniques can lead to an unfortunate outcome, well, this is precisely why I emphasised the point. The purpose of the Control and Restraint technique — the protocols in the regime and the very well defined roles for individual officers — is precisely to ensure that reasonable force is used in a controlled manner in order to bring a situation under control with minimal injuries to all parties. That is the objective. So we have to understand the context of the prison environment and what its objective is. As I said, also for the record, we have had no incident since these techniques were adopted since 1990 where the death of a prison inmate or for that matter, serious injuries were attributed to the use of C&R techniques.

Finally, whether the review of C&R techniques can be shared with other agencies, where appropriate, the Home Team has platforms where our Departments share areas which are of common interest.

Question time for MHA

According to Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng, Mas Selamat Kastari swam across the Straits of Johor using an ‘improvised flotation device’ in his dash to freedom ‘soon after’ his escape from the Whitley Detention Centre on Feb 27 last year. Also, no local Jemaah Islamiah network was involved in aiding Mas Selamat’s dash. In other words, he escaped to Johor all on his own.

I presume the Minister got this information from the Malaysian police, who had interrogated the terrorist suspect after arresting him on April 1st.

A few questions for MHA:

1.  Mas Selamat was reported to have escaped at 4.05pm. Assuming he made a beeline to the northern coast of Singapore, he would have arrived at the coast before sunset. Does this mean that a man rowing himself across the Johor Strait on a self-made raft in broad daylight was not spotted by our Police Coast Guard (PCG)?

2.  Wasn’t there a lockdown and all the checkpoints alerted of Mas Selamat’s escape immediately after the escape? If so why was the PCG not able to detect him rowing across the Straits of Johor? Don’t they have sophisticated radar equipment?

3.  Was the PCG even alerted in the first place, or was there a communication lapse? Either way, is there going to be an inquiry into this second lapse?

4. The Malaysian Home Minister said Mas Selamat was arrested because he was “planning something”. What were these plans and how would it have affected Singapore?

5. Since the Minister knows how he got across to Johor, I presume he also knows how Mas Selamat actually got out of Whitley Detention Centre through the interrogations. Will he be able to share that information with Singaporeans, particularly if it differs from the Committee of Inquiry’s hypothesis?


Escape has yet to dent govt’s hubris

While in a cab last Saturday, I recalled the newspapers reporting that within hours of alleged Jemaah Islamiah leader Mas Selamat Kastari’s escape from detention, a broadcast was sent to all taxis urging them to look out for the escaped terrorist. Wanting to verify this, I asked the cabby when exactly he received that broadcast.

“They didn’t tell us until the next day!” he replied in Mandarin. “And after making such a big blunder, what’s the point of apologising?”, he continued, ending off with, “Ta ma de!” which loosely translates to “Damn it!” in English.

With just that innocent question, I had not expected to ignite such anger in that otherwise polite taxi driver. It was then I realised that I was not alone in feeling upset at the fact that the government allowed a potentially dangerous man to slip away so easily from detention last Wednesday afternoon. An AFP report published by The Straits Times (2 March) reported that the government has come under unusually “stinging public criticism” after the escape.

But to err is human. And government officials are human after all, aren’t they? So why engage in this “unconstructive and retrospective finger-pointing”, as two NTU academics wrote in TODAY (4 March)? Shouldn’t we “rally behind and support our security forces and not undermine them,” as Mr Nicholas Lazarus advised me in a comment on my blog last Friday?

On deeper analysis, it appears that Singaporeans’ anger at the government is not simply because a bunch of bumbling Internal Security Department (ISD) officials at the Whitley Road Detention Centre let slip the alleged leader of JI Singapore.

It is not because Singapore has been in the international spotlight for all the wrong reasons. It is not even because after more than a week, one thousand police officers and army personnel still haven’t been able to find a limping man in this little red dot of an island.

I suspect that Singaporeans are more upset with the insufferable hubris and lack of transparency of the government despite what is probably their biggest blunder in recent memory.

Mr Tan Chak Lim put it this way in a letter to TODAY (1 March):

“When we hear of dangerous prisoners escaping from prison in Indonesia or the Philippines, we congratulate ourselves that such things can’t possibly happen in Singapore. The escape of Mas Selamat should check any hubristic tendencies on our part.”

Hubristic tendencies? Didn’t the Deputy Prime Minister apologise in Parliament for the “lapse in security”? Wasn’t that a sincere enough display of contrition for someone as high and mighty as Mr Wong Kan Seng?

The behaviour of senior government officials in the wake of the escape suggests that these hubristic tendencies are still as strong as ever.

It took four long hours for the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to inform the public that Mas Selamat had escaped? PAP Member of Parliament Dr Teo Ho Pin asked the right question the next day in Parliament: Why so long?

The Minister’s answer? He posed “no imminent danger to the public” and he was “not known to be armed”. The police on Sunday said that they did not want to cause “public panic”.

Does the Minister really think Singaporeans are so irrational? If he is not armed and dangerous, why should Singaporeans panic if the police sounded the alarm immediately?

The public could have helped police nab the man in those crucial four hours.

In fact at about 5.15pm, 70 minutes after the escape, a bus commuter reported seeing a man, believed to be Mas Selamat, at a petrol kiosk near the detention centre. A manager of a car washing kiosk at the Esso petrol station on Whitley Road reported seeing a man struggling up a flight of stairs towards Malcolm Park at 5pm. If these people had been informed of Mas Selamat’s escape, they would have called the police immediately instead of speaking to the press only a day later.

As student Lee Weijia pointed out in a letter to the Straits Times, “the authorities were hoping to apprehend him without alerting the public. It seems that the public was only alerted when the authorities recognised the fact that Mas Selamat could not be apprehended any time soon.”

Lee went on to ask a very pertinent question: If Mas Selamat had been apprehended within the four hours, would this have been reported and made known to the public at all?

“We should not speculate”

The question that every Singaporean must have asked in the immediate wake of the escape was, “How could this have happened in Singapore?”

Every Singaporean, that is, except our local mainstream media journalists and editors.

As NTU don Cherian George pointed out, neither The Straits Times, nor Channel NewsAsia, nor TODAY asked that question within the first 24 hours of the news breaking. This led Dr George to conclude that the editors “must have been instructed not to raise the ‘how’ question publicly”.

Indeed, the Home Affairs minister had told Parliament immediately after his apology, that, “An independent investigation is underway. We should not speculate now. Security at the centre has been stepped up.”

How can the minister tell Singaporeans not to speculate when such a costly mistake has just been committed? Is there a presumption that the government is above public scrutiny?

Suffered a “knock” but we’re still better than others

On Sunday, the Home Affairs minister acknowledged that Singapore’s reputation for safety and security had “suffered a knock somewhat”.

Was it just a “knock”?

The news of the escape was reported the world over by major news agencies and dailies like AFP, CNN, BBC, New York Times, Reuters, Associated Press, Xinhua, Hindustan Times, Washington Post, Sydney Morning Herald, Al Jazeera and Taipei Times, just to name a few.

They featured unflattering headlines like “A Jihadi Limps Away from Singapore Jail”, “Singapore: Terror suspect fled toilet” and “Embarrassed Singapore hunts escaped terrorist”.

NTU academics Hoo Tiang Boon and Kumar Ramakrishna assessed that Mas Selamat’s escape is likely to have “wide repercussions, strategically and operationally” and that other terrorists might use this story for the own recruitment and indoctrination purposes.

The Minister went on to boast that “our reputation continues to remain high compared to many other countries”. Indeed, what better way to prop oneself up than to put others down, by implying that “other countries” (read: Indonesia, Philippines, etc) still pale in comparison to us! Even if it is true, this is hardly the time to say so.

Responding in kind, the Indonesians later stated that while they are helping in the search for Mas Selamat, if they catch him, they are not going to extradite him to Singapore for the second time, because the Singapore-Indonesia Extradition Treaty has not been ratified.

See where this hubris has gotten us?

Singaporeans fed dribs and drabs of information

Last Friday, I asked on my blog why the police had not told the public what Mas Selamat was wearing when he escaped. On Tuesday, almost a week after the escape, the police finally revealed that he could have been wearing a baju kurong over a beige round collared tee-shirt and a pair of brown long trousers.

The reason given for not telling the public earlier? They did not want the public to have a “fixation” on this particular attire as the fugitive could have already changed his clothes. Now they want the public to help look out for his discarded attire.

How insulting to Singaporeans! Is it better to look out for these clothes when they are on the fugitive or when they have been taken off?

The police obviously felt the heat for not releasing basic information like his height, weight and attire earlier. Now they are trying to weasel their way out by asking Singaporeans to look out for discarded clothes. Do they really think Mas Selamat will strip off his clothes and place them neatly in the open for everyone to see?

The “independent” investigation

Singaporeans were told by the minister that there will be an “independent investigation” in to this matter. Then it was revealed that the Commission of Inquiry (COI) consists of an advisor to the President, a serving ambassador and former police chief, and the Deputy Secretary for Security at the Home Affairs Ministry.

It is already a stretch to say that the first two are independent, despite their government links and current portfolios, but having on the Commission the third-most senior civil servant in the very ministry at fault surely shatters any veneer of “independence”. Like Mr Wang, I have nothing personal against any of these commissioners. In fact, I met Mr Tee Tua Ba when he was Ambassador to Egypt and can attest that he is a very pleasant and friendly gentleman. I trust that these commissioners will be impartial to the best of their ability.

Nevertheless, I do not understand why the government boasts that this is an “independent commission” when by most objective measures, it is clearly not. Have they taken the liberty to redefine the meaning of “independent”?

It remains to be seen whether the COI’s report is going to be made public, just like the 9/11 Commission which investigated the failures that allowed the terrorist attacks of September 11 in New York and Washington.

Conclusion

I am aware that it is unfair to blame the entire Home Team for a security breach at a top- secret ISD detention centre that many Singaporeans didn’t even know existed. I am in full support of the hundreds of policemen who are working overtime to nab this alleged terrorist.

It is just unfortunate that despite the gravity of the mistakes that were made by MHA officials before and after Mas Selamat’s escape, Singaporeans are still expected to put up with haughty statements and lack of transparency from our government.

The most senior government leaders have been deafeningly silent on this issue since it broke. I will not be surprised if the first statements we hear from them are chastisements along the lines of Singaporeans — especially bloggers — not having a sense of proportion when criticising the government for this minor security lapse.

Singapore’s international reputation for security and competence has taken a hit as a result of this blunder. Unfortunately, however, it seems the government’s hubris hasn’t been dented one bit.

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