SINGAPORE, Nov 7 — When determining how to house transgender convicts, the Singapore Prison Service’s (SPS) general rule is that prisoners would be placed in an institution that is based on their registered sex and not their self-identified gender, though the safety of the prisoner and others is a primary consideration on how they live alongside fellow inmates.

Replying to a question in Parliament today, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam added that cases of sexual assault involving transgender persons in prison so far there have not come up “in a serious way” and that the level of violence in prison here is “generally very low”.

Mr Murali Pillai, Member of Parliament for Bukit Batok Single Member Constituency, had asked about the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) approach towards housing of transgender persons in prison in Singapore.

He noted a recent controversial case in Scotland involving Isla Bryson, a transgender woman, who was convicted of the rape of two women and was initially housed in segregation in an all-female jail, based on the Scottish prison service’s policy of housing inmates based on their new gender.


The incident sparked public debates in Scotland, and Bryson was later moved to a male prison facility.

Today, Mr Shanmugam said that in Singapore, the primary consideration when placing an inmate is his or her safety, and that while as a rule, inmates are housed in a male or female institution based on the registered sex and not their self-identified gender, they may also be assigned to an individual cell within that prison, among other options.

Spelling out how such judgements are made, Mr Shanmugam said there may be cases where the general rule of housing transgender prisoners based on their registered sex is not done in consideration of the inmate’s or other prisoners’ safety, he added.


“For example, a male inmate who is transitioning and who has developed female features such as breast, it may not be completely safe for this inmate to be housed together with other male inmates,” said Mr Shanmugam.

“On the other hand, inmates in a female institution may not feel comfortable if we house with them a former male who has just completed transitioning to be a female, especially like in the case of Bryson, the person had previously committed sexual offences.”

In such cases, SPS may house the inmate in an individual cell within the institution of their registered sex, or in a shared cell with other inmates “who are in the similar situation”, said Mr Shanmugam.

In cases where medical examinations found that an inmate has external genitalia different from the person’s registered sex, SPS will facilitate an examination with a medical specialist “to assess if they have had a complete physical change in genitalia ‘‘, the minister added.

The prison will then help the inmate update his or her registered sex with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

Low level of violence in prisons

Mr Murali then asked if there have been any instances of transgender persons being assaulted or sexually assaulted in Singapore prisons and what steps are taken to handle such cases.

He also asked if transgender inmates are regularly interviewed to ensure that they are safe in the prison environment.

Mr Shanmugam invited Mr Murali to file another parliamentary question if he wants specific data regarding such assault cases, though he added that in general, the level of violence in prisons here is “very low”.

“So, I would be surprised if there were many such instances,” said Mr Shanmugam.

“It’s certainly not something that has come up in a serious way as an issue for a policy decision.”

Mr Shanmugam said that all inmates, not just transgender persons, are interviewed regularly and that they can raise their concerns in these sessions. He added that should any legitimate issues or concerns be found during these interviews, the authorities will act on them. — TODAY