As of March this year, about 5 per cent of inmates are on medication for the management of their mental health condition. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Prison inmates with mild mental health issues are seen regularly by prison psychiatrists and go through rehabilitation programmes, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam in Parliament on Monday (July 4).

He was addressing a question by Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (Chua Chu Kang GRC) on the mental health support given to prison inmates.

Such inmates are housed with the general inmate population, said Mr Shanmugam.

"Those with severe mental health issues may be housed in a specialised facility managed with the (Institute of Mental Health) - that allows for more intensive intervention and therapy," he added.

"Inmates who need active IMH follow-ups are referred to a psychiatrist. Inmates with mental health needs may also have other rehab issues, for example, violent behaviour. There is an increased safety risk for staff and other inmates and prisons deal with those."

While Mr Shanmugam said the data on inmates diagnosed with mental health conditions upon admission are not actively tracked, about 5 per cent of inmates are on medication for the management of their mental health condition, as of March this year.

The most common conditions are adjustment and mood disorders.

In May, the Transformative Justice Collective - an organisation seeking the reform of Singapore's criminal punishment system - launched a 73-page report on Singapore's prison system.

It claimed mental health care in prisons here was abysmal, adding that inmates who had suicidal thoughts are placed in the prison psychiatric ward, where they are restrained to their beds.

It said its report was based on interviews with 35 people with first-hand experience with incarceration.

Mr Shanmugam did not address these claims in his speech on Monday but said Singapore's tight approach, with emphasis placed on security and monitoring, is probably one reason for the country's lower suicide rates.

He said between 2017 and 2021, there was one case of suicide in Singapore's prisons. This compared with 10 cases in Hong Kong over the same period, and 12 in Norway and 22 in Denmark between 2017 and 2020.

Mr Zhulkarnain and Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) asked about the challenges and support for inmates with mental health or medical issues, saying they may face challenges in accessing continual treatment after release.

Mr Shanmugam replied that prior to their release, inmates with mental and medical conditions may be referred to IMH or restructured hospitals for follow-up care.

He said that ex-offenders who need further follow up after release are referred to Changi General Hospital's specialist clinics for continuity of care.

Mr Shanmugam added that the Singapore Prison Service was working with SingHealth to facilitate follow-up appointments for ex-offenders at other public healthcare institutions which are nearer their homes.

He said: "The rehab approach by prisons is based on the concept of throughcare - address rehab needs of inmates in prison and facilitate reintegration upon release."