7 Detention Orders in Singapore: When Will They be Ordered?

Last updated on April 5, 2021

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What is a Detention Order?

A detention order is a sentence meted out by the judge to an offender that requires the offender to be confined in a certain place for a certain period of time.

Unlike imprisonment, detention orders may have stipulated conditions that offenders need to follow and rehabilitation programmes they need to attend. On the other hand, an offender who is sentenced to imprisonment only needs to follow a basic prison schedule.

A detention order is usually ordered during the sentencing phase – either as a result of pleading guilty or being convicted at the end of a criminal trial.

What is the difference between a detention order and remand?

Detention orders are not to be confused with remand. Detention orders are sentences that are meted out by a judge after the individual has been convicted of a crime.

Remand, on the other hand, is the detention of an individual in a prison cell prior to the commencement of trial, and during police investigations.

After the expiration of the initial police detention period of 48 hours, the accused can be released on bail, or the court may reject bail and place the accused in remand for further investigations by the Investigation Officer.

What are the Types of Detention Orders in Singapore?

There are 7 main types of detention orders in Singapore:

  1. Detention Order for youths
  2. Weekend Detention Order
  3. Short Detention Order
  4. Home Detention Order
  5. Preventive Detention Order
  6. Preventive Detention under the Internal Security Act
  7. Detention without trial

1. Detention Order (DO) for youths

Who is eligible for a DO?

A Detention Order (DO) will be ordered only for young offenders under 16 years of age.

A court will generally not order children under 10 years old to be placed under detention unless it is satisfied that the child cannot be suitably dealt with otherwise.

An offender can be detained under a DO until he has reached a maximum age of 18.

How long is a DO and can it be extended?

If a young offender is proved to have committed an offence, the Youth Court can order the young offender to be detained at a place of detention (such as the Singapore Boys’ Home, or the Singapore Girls’ Home) for up to 6 months.

If the Youth Court orders for the detention of a young person at the place of detention along with a probation order, the period of detention cannot exceed 3 months. He/she will serve the detention order prior to the probation order.

The Youth Court can also extend the DO if it finds the youth guilty of another offence during the period of detention.

Will a DO be granted if a youth commits serious offences?

If the youth is found guilty of a serious offence such as murder or voluntarily causing grievous hurt, the court may order the youth to be detained for the same period as may be specified in the sentence.

For example, if the youth committed an offence of voluntarily causing grievous hurt, which is punishable by imprisonment for up to 10 years, the Youth Court may sentence the youth to be detained for a period of up to 10 years as well, with him being moved from the detention centre to prison.

What happens during the DO?

In the place of detention, the youth will undergo academic, rehabilitative and holistic development programmes so that he/she can reintegrate back into society.

If the youth is found too unruly in his/her behaviour in the place of detention, the court may:

  • Order him/her to be detained at a juvenile rehabilitation centre for part of/the rest of the detention period; or
  • Order him/her to be brought in front of the District Judge for an order that he/she undergo reformative training if the youth:
    • Has attained the age of 16; or
    • Is a repeat offender between the ages of 14 and 16 who has previously been detained in a juvenile rehabilitation centre.

2. Weekend Detention Order (WDO)

How does a WDO work?

In lieu of a detention order, the court may also order a Weekend Detention Order (WDO) for youth offenders.

This means that the youth offender is to be detained at a place of detention for a number of weekends, with a maximum of 26 weekends. For the rest of the time, the youth will still be able to continue attending school or work as per normal.

The youth will be detained at the place of detention from 3 pm on Saturday till 5 pm on Sunday.

Similar to a DO, the youth will undergo academic, rehabilitative and holistic development programmes when at the place of detention. The court may impose a weekend order along with a probation order, community service order or a fine.

What happens if the WDO is breached?

A youth offender is in breach of a WDO if he fails to report to the place of detention without reasonable excuse, or he fails to comply with any condition stated in the WDO.

For example, if he commits an offence, or fails to immediately notify his supervising officer of an illness or exigency that is preventing him from reporting or serving his detention.

Once he is in breach, the youth is given the chance to explain the contravention to his supervising officer within 48 hours of the breach.

If the breach is not due to the commission of an offence, or not of so serious a nature that warrants a revocation of the WDO, the supervising officer will deal with the offender in accordance with the rules of the detention centre.

If, however, the breach is due to the commission of an offence, or is so serious in nature, the supervising officer will refer the matter back to the Youth Court. On this basis, the court will either:

  • Make a new order against the offender (e.g. sentencing the offender to probation);
  • Vary the original order (e.g. make it a full-time DO); or
  • Direct the youth to comply with the original WDO.

3. Short Detention Order (SDO)

Who is eligible for an SDO?

A Short Detention Order (SDO) is available for offenders who are 16 years old or older.

How long is an SDO?

Under the order, an offender will be detained in prison for a maximum of 14 days.

When may an SDO be ordered?

An SDO is applicable to minor offences and meted out at the discretion of the court. It is available for a myriad of offences, from e-scooter accidents, to assault, to a breach of director’s duties under the Companies Act.

According to the Singapore Prison Service, the rationale behind an SDO is to limit the detention period for low-risk offenders to reduce the stigma of arising from imprisonment as well as having a criminal record (see below).

Another rationale is to not disrupt the offender’s education, family or job for a prolonged period of time, and to assist with his rehabilitation.

What happens if you breach an SDO?

If an offender breaches the SDO, the court may, on the application of the Commissioner of Prisons, revoke an SDO and impose an imprisonment sentence on an offender.

When imposing a sentence, the court may take into account the time already served under the SDO.

Will an SDO leave a criminal record?

An SDO is a community service-based order and therefore carries no criminal record.

4. Home Detention Order (HDO)

A Home Detention Order (HDO) is a house arrest, where an offender is kept confined to his home with strict curfews.

In the interest of rehabilitating the offender, the Commissioner may allow him to serve the rest of his sentence in home detention, rather than in prison, for up to 12 months.

Who is eligible for an HDO?

A person is eligible for a HDO if he:

  • Is serving a sentence for at least 4 weeks;
  • Has served at least 14 days of that sentence;
  • Has not been previously released under an HDO for the same sentence;
  • Is not serving a sentence for life imprisonment;
  • Has not been convicted for a capital offence;
  • Is not liable to be deported from Singapore upon completion of his sentence; and
  • Is not convicted for, among other offences, at least one of the following offences:

However, the Minister for Home Affairs has the discretion to order an HDO for an offender of one of the offences mentioned in the list above. When doing so, he will consider the following factors:

  • The offender’s progress and rehabilitation in prison;
  • The offender’s family support; and
  • The risk of the offender re-offending.

What happens during an HDO?

Under a HDO, an offender may have to:

  • Attend counselling/rehabilitation sessions;
  • Provide a specimen of his urine or hair for a test;
  • Remain indoors at his place of residence for the specific periods of time mentioned in his order; and
  • Be electronically tagged (to enable the electronic monitoring of his whereabouts).

What happens if the HDO is breached?

If an offender breaches his HDO, he is liable to be recalled to prison while a Superintendent of Prisons completes his inquiry on the breaches. In this case, the HDO will not be revoked and the period of HDO will continue to run despite the offender being recalled to prison.

However, should the Superintendent be satisfied that the HDO has been indeed breached after such inquiry, the HDO will be revoked. Once the order is revoked, the offender will have to serve the rest of his sentence in prison.

Will a HDO leave a criminal record?

An HDO is considered to be part of the offender’s sentence. Though it does not have a separate criminal record, it will be a part of the criminal record for the offender’s original offence and sentence.

5. Preventive detention order

A preventive detention order is a very serious order.

It is ordered only if the court is satisfied that the offender is a recalcitrant offender, and he should be imprisoned so as to protect the public from him. A preventive detention order can last between 7 to 20 years.

An offender may be liable for a preventive detention order if he is above the age of 30 and is certified mentally and physically fit to undergo preventive detention. He must also meet either of the following criteria:

  • Convicted of an offence carrying a sentence of at least 2 years’ jail, was previously convicted of such an offence (whether in Singapore or overseas) at least 3 times previously since turning 16, and was sentenced to imprisonment or corrective training for at least 2 of these convictions; or
  • Convicted at trial of 3 or more distinct offences carrying a sentence of at least 2 years’ jail, and was previously convicted of an offence, carrying at least 2 years’ jail (whether in Singapore or elsewhere), since turning 16 and jailed for that offence for at least a month.

What happens during preventive detention?

There are 3 stages to preventive detention:

Under the first stage, the offender is treated the same as any other person who is imprisoned.

This period lasts between 1–2 years. During which, periodic reports will be made by a Superintendent Officer to the Commissioner of Prisons to determine the offender’s suitability to proceed to stage 2.

Under the second stage, the offender may be allowed to earn privileges similar to those allowed to offenders serving regular imprisonment terms. These privileges include the sending and receiving of letters, and receiving visits.

At the earliest, an offender will be eligible to move on to the third stage of preventive detention 12 months before 2/3 of his sentence is complete. The third stage will last at least 6 months.

To reach the third stage, the Commissioner will consider the offender’s conduct in the second stage, and whether under stage 3, he might be able to recommend the offender’s release on licence.

Only if he is satisfied, will the offender move on to stage 3. If not, the Commissioner can defer his decision and consider the case in intervals of at least 6 months.

Under the third stage, the offender will be prepared for release into the community. This could include allowing the offender to live in conditions of modified security so that the transition to normal life will be easier.

The Commissioner, however, can order the offender back to the second stage if this is in the interest of the offender or others.

After serving at least 2/3 of preventive detention (if the offender is admitted to the third stage), or at least 5/6 of preventive detention (regardless of whether the offender is admitted to the third stage, the offender can be released on licence.

When released, the offender is required to comply with whatever conditions are mentioned in the licence, failing which he can be recalled to prison.

6. Preventive detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA)

The Internal Security Act (ISA) allows the government to deal with and take swift action against any threats to Singapore’s national security.

Preventive detention under the ISA is considered when prosecution is impractical. This could occur if prosecution might endanger witnesses’ safety, or if it would expose secret sources of intelligence and undercover investigations.

It is important to note that preventive detention under the ISA is used only as a last resort.

What happens if preventive detention under the ISA is ordered? How long is the order?

Police officers can detain a person under the ISA for a period up to 24 hours if the officer believes that an order of preventive detention may be required against that person. Such initial detention can be without the permission of an officer at or above the rank of an Assistant Superintendent of Police, and without a warrant.

If the police officer does get permission however, then they can detain the person for a period up to 48 hours.

If the offence is not so serious, the offender may be released and a Restriction Order (RO) may be issued against him instead. The RO may, for example, restrict the offender from leaving the country without permission. The RO may also be renewed in intervals of up to 12 months.

However, where the offence is deemed serious, an officer at or above the rank of a Superintendent of Police can extend the detention up to a maximum period of 30 days (this includes the initial 48 hours of detention).

It should be noted that if someone is being detained for more than 14 days, the Minister for Home Affairs must be informed. The Minister for Home Affairs can detain someone beyond a period of 30 days only with the permission of the President.

Subsequently, the Minister for Home Affairs can order preventive detention for a person (regardless of nationality) for a period up to 2 years, according to section 8 of the ISA.

For such preventive detention to be ordered, the President must be satisfied that the detention is necessary to prevent the offender from acting in any manner that is prejudicial to the security of Singapore – such as supporting or participating in terrorist activities.

In addition, within 3 months of the detainee’s date of preventive detention under the ISA, the Advisory Board will make its recommendations on the detainee’s detention to the President.

Upon receiving such recommendations, the President will direct the Minister for Home Affairs to make any relevant changes to the terms of the preventive detention order. These terms will be reviewed by the Advisory Board in intervals of up to 12 months.

If the Advisory Board recommends for the release of the detainee, the person cannot be further detained under the ISA unless the President disagrees with the recommendation.

However if the detainee is detained for the full 2 years under the ISA, the President can renew the order for another period of 2 years if the President considers that the offender should continue being detained in the interest of national security.

Before renewing the order, an Advisory Board will conduct an independent review to determine whether the detention is necessary. It is upon their recommendation that the order will be renewed.

What are the detainees’ rights under the ISA?

Within 14 days of being served with an order of preventive detention under the ISA, the detainees must be given, in writing, the reason(s) why they have been detained. They will also be allowed to make representations to the Board on why they should not be detained.

Their families are informed of their detention, but detainees may be denied visits from family and/or lawyers while investigations are ongoing.

However, detainees will be allowed to engage a lawyer after their first 30 days of preventive detention.

Can detainees appeal against their detention?

In general, a person detained under the ISA cannot appeal to the courts for a review of his/her detention.

This is unless the appeal is regarding a failure to follow procedure, such as the detainee being detained for more than 30 days from the time of arrest without the Minister for Home Affairs’ approval.

7. Detention without trial

Who can be detained without trial?

Detention without trial is for offenders aged 18 and above.

The Minister for Home Affairs has the authority to detain someone without trial for up to 12 months under section 30 of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA) if the Minister is satisfied that a person has been associated with certain specified criminal activities, and that the detention is in the interests of public safety, peace and good order.

The Public Prosecutor has to consent to such detention, and the President can choose to extend the order for periods up to 12 months.

According to the Fourth Schedule of the CLTPA, criminal activities that can lead to detention without trial are:

The detention order will be reviewed by an advisory committee within 28 days of the order. The committee will make recommendations to the President on whether the detention order should be meted out or not. The President can then cancel or confirm the detention order.

Furthermore, the police have the power to arrest and detain pending enquiries, without any warrant, people suspected of being engaged in the criminal activities listed above.

They are allowed to be detained by the police for a maximum of 48 hours, or up to 14 days if more time is needed for the police to carry out the necessary enquiries.

7 Detention Orders in Singapore: A Summary

The following is a summary of the detention orders discussed above:

Type of Order Eligibility Duration Place of detention What does the offender do during the period of detention? What happens when the detention order is breached?
Detention Order (DO) for youths Persons under the age of 16 Up to 6 months (without probation);

Up to 3 months (with probation); or

Proportionate to sentence stated in the statutes if a serious crime is committed

Singapore Boys’ Home /Singapore Girl’s Home Undergo rehabilitative programmes

Reside in the place of detention for the duration of the order

Detained at a  juvenile rehabilitation centre; or

Sent to a  Reformative Training Centre

Weekend Detention Order (WDO) Persons under the age of 16 Up to 26 weekends Singapore Boys’ Home/Singapore Girl’s Home Undergo rehabilitative programmes

Report to the detention centre from 3pm on Saturday till 5pm on Sunday

A new order will be made; or

The original order will be varied (e.g. made into a full-time DO); or

The youth will be directed to comply with the WDO

Short Detention Order (SDO) Persons aged 16 or above Up to 14 days Prison Follow a daily prison schedule Order may be revoked, and a sentence may be imposed instead
Home Detention Order (HDO) Persons who are imprisoned for at least 4 weeks but not life imprisonment.

The person should not have committed any of the crimes stated above.

The remainder of the imprisonment sentence Home Undergo rehabilitation and counselling sessions The order may be revoked, and the offender spends the rest of his/her sentence in prison
Preventive Detention Order Persons above the age of 30 who have been deemed medically and physically fit 7 to 20 years Stages 1 and 2: Prison

Stage 3: Modified living conditions in prison

Stage 1: Follow prison schedule

Stage 2: Work in prison

Stage 3: Undergo rigorous industrial and social training

Recalled to prison
Preventive Detention Order under the ISA Persons suspected of activities that threaten Singapore’s national security Up to 2 years (can be renewed upon the end of 2 years by the President) Detention centre N/A N/A
Detention without trial under the CLTPA Persons aged 18 and above who have been associated with certain specified criminal activities, where their detention is required for the interests of public safety, peace and good order Up to 12 months (can be extended by the President) Prison N/A N/A
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