Crime-fighting during COVID-19: Precautions taken in prisons, police stations and courts

Crime-fighting during COVID-19: Precautions taken in prisons, police stations and courts

Changi prison file
File photo of a women's day room in Changi Prison. (Photo: Amir Yusof) 

SINGAPORE: Crime-fighting has continued during the COVID-19 outbreak, albeit with precautionary measures for inmates, suspects and accused persons, agencies told CNA.

In the prisons, where no coronavirus case has been detected as of Apr 10, inmates have been issued with a reusable mask each.

Newly admitted inmates are housed separately from the general population and monitored for 14 days, said the Singapore Prison Service (SPS).

IN THE PRISONS

All inmates have their temperatures taken twice daily and safe distancing measures are in place to reduce the gathering of inmates, for example during yard time.

Inmates who feel unwell are required to put on the issued masks and are immediately separated and monitored. Should they fulfil the Ministry of Health's case definition of COVID-19, they will be tested for the virus.

Since Apr 7, the prisons have suspended all programmes that require external partners to enter the premises, such as work, family and religious programmes.

changi prison entrance gate
The entrance gate of Changi Prison. (File photo: Singapore Prison Service)

They continue, however, to work with volunteers from religious organisations to provide videos and reading materials for inmates.

Essential services such as food and linen services continue to operate, with added safe-distancing measures in place.

Family members of inmates are not allowed to visit their loved ones during the circuit breaker period from Apr 7 to May 4, as SPS has suspended all family visits.

Instead, inmates can make local phone calls to their families or communicate via email and traditional mail.

If the inmates need to be produced in court, video-conferencing is used when possible, otherwise SPS works closely with the courts to implement safe distancing for those who need escorting to court.

AT POLICE STATIONS

The police have also adopted certain measures to protect their officers, members of the public and suspects during the ongoing COVID-19 situation.

handcuffs
File photo of handcuffs. (Photo: TODAY)

While a Singapore Police Force spokesperson told CNA that police services are "largely unaffected", frontline officers are issued with personal protective equipment including masks and gloves.

The force has also implemented precautionary measures such as temperature screening and maintaining a minimum of a metre's distance between suspects in police lock-ups.

Those in custody who need to be quarantined are housed separately from the rest, and a suspect who has flu-like symptoms or is believed to be ill will be referred to a medical practitioner.

The police have also increased their use of video-conferencing in order to produce accused persons in court.

The force said it remains committed to its mission to prevent, deter and detect crime, and is also supporting the Government’s efforts to manage the COVID-19 situation in Singapore.

IN THE COURTS

Most court hearings originally scheduled during the circuit breaker period have been adjourned, the Chief Justice previously announced.

However, cases that are urgent and essential continue to be heard, albeit with extra precautions.

READ: COVID-19: Most court hearings in the next month to be adjourned except urgent, essential cases

Urgent and essential cases include those that are time-sensitive or are subject to legal requirements stating that they must be heard within a specified time frame. 

For example, the charge courts remain open as arrested persons must be produced in court within 48 hours as per the Criminal Procedure Code.

Those who continue to come to court must fill out health and travel declarations, and those at the State Courts have their temperatures scanned before entering, a spokesperson for the Supreme Court told CNA.

Anyone who displays symptoms of sickness or are on any type of quarantine or stay-home notice will be denied entry.

The court cases that do go through are heard via video-conferencing as far as possible, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) told CNA.

Singapore court hearings safe distancing
Video conferencing being used in a court hearing. (Photo: Supreme Court)

"AGC is digitally ready and has made the necessary arrangements for our prosecutors to attend court hearings from home using video-conference systems," said a spokesperson.

Currently, pre-trial conferences, plead guilty mentions and appeals are heard this way, and video trials are in the works.

READ: Some Singapore court hearings to take place via video conference as judiciary rolls out COVID-19 measures

Prosecutors consult and clear prosecution decisions with their supervisors via Skype and other means.

Other prosecutorial work such as making charging decisions, dealing with representations from accused persons and their counsel and formulating sentencing positions can be done from home.

Some measures put in place to allow for this include digitising investigation papers and permitting remote access to databases and resources, said AGC.

"Those who need to return to the office stagger reporting and knock-off times and monitor their health closely," said the spokesperson. 

"The dynamic and evolving COVID-19 situation has presented the AGC with a set of unique challenges and changed the way our prosecutors go about doing their work," said AGC.

It added that it continues to be fully operational to deal with prosecution matters, so that the criminal justice system "continues to function in these extraordinary times".

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Source: CNA/ll

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