Singapore Prison Service: Trained For Tenacity, Wired With Empathy

Tough but empathetic. Paradoxical as it seems, these two qualities are integral to being part of Singapore Prison Service (SPS), an organisation concerned with protecting society and rehabilitating offenders.

By Joelle Tan

Thirty-one-year-old Staff Sergeant Chua Chin Soon currently serves SPS as an officer with SPEAR (Singapore Prisons Emergency Action Response) Force...

SPEAR Force is a highly trained specialist force that is deployed for various high-risk and special operations. SPEAR officers specialise in Close Quarters Riot Control, High-Risk Inmates’ Transportation, Close Protection, Less Lethal Weaponry, Dynamic Entry, Cell Extractions and other tactical skills which are essential to make prisons safe in an ever changing security climate.

Their core functions include responding to prison contingencies and exercises, performing high-risk escort duties and training prison officers in various core tactical skills.

Staff Sergeant Chua sat down to share his experiences with the author.

Q: How long have you been with SPS?

S/Sgt Chua: Almost five years. I joined SPS in 2003 after graduating from Ngee Ann Polytechnic with a Diploma in Electronic and Computer Engineering. I was posted to (the now defunct) Changi Prison and subsequently to SPEAR in 2004.

Q: What are your reasons for joining the Singapore Prison Service?

S/Sgt Chua: The pay was a huge draw of course. But I was attracted to the job because prison officers play a significant role in the rehabilitation of the offenders.

Q: Was the training that you had undergone tough?

S/Sgt Chua: I would say that it was a little taxing, but necessary. In this line, being physically fit is a requirement and the training helps in that respect.

Q: What is your typical day like?

S/Sgt Chua: As a personal supervisor in (the now defunct) Changi Prison, I took care of prison security and met with the inmates under my charge regularly to see if they have any problems and/or requests. Now as a SPEAR officer, my duties range from escort to security coverage. On other days, I stay in the SPEAR base to train. Our training covers skills like rappelling, shooting, self-defence techniques and riot control.

Q: What do you think is the greatest challenge a prison officer faces?

S/Sgt Chua: I would say that it is being able to make a difference in the lives of the offenders. Most people who commit crimes know the consequences, just as smokers know that smoking is bad for them. So in order to help them and make a difference in their lives, we have to help them to see that there is a problem that needs to be fixed, and to let them acknowledge their problem. Only then can they solve it and carry on with their lives.

Q: What gives you the greatest satisfaction in this job?

S/Sgt Chua: As a prison officer, I gain greatest satisfaction seeing offenders turn over a new leaf, seeing them renew their own lives with our help and guidance.

Q: In your opinion, what are some of the qualities that a prison officer should possess?

S/Sgt Chua: Prison officers need to have high resilience and need to be clear on what is right and what is wrong. Prison officers should also be empathetic so that they can understand and communicate with inmates and ultimately provide them with help and support. He/she also needs to be able to balance his/her role as a mentor and counsellor and as a disciplinarian.

Q: If you were to use a word to describe your job, what will it be and why?

S/Sgt Chua: Dynamic. But another three words can pretty much sum everything up—expect the unexpected. For us, everyday is different.

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