Singapore Prison Service
Feature | SPS

Putting Lives on the Right Track

Singapore Prison Service officers are known as Captains of Lives, and with good reason. A career in this organisation is stirring and compelling – carving a path to a safe and compassionate Singapore where ex-offenders can be given a second chance.
Singapore Prison Service

Left: Kenneth Koh, Superintendent, B4 at Singapore Prison Service, is a Home Team Scholarship recipient. He has a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil Engineering) (1st Class) from NUS and a Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice (with Merit) from University of Edinburgh.

Right: Koh Zhi Xiang is an Personal Supervisor at Cluster B3 in Singapore Prison Service and holds a Diploma in Mechatronics from Temasek Polytechnic. He is a Home Team Diploma Sponsorship Award Recipient as well as MHA Degree Scholarship Award Recipient.

Singapore Prison Service (SPS) is a uniformed organisation dedicated to the highest of causes – rehabilitating, renewing and restarting lives. Its endeavours not only keep us safe, but also give ex-offenders a second chance to reintegrate and contribute to society.

Aptly, officers in SPS are named Captains of Lives to those under their custody. SPS officers are teachers, cheerleaders, disciplinarians and confidantes to all under their care, and it makes for an invigorating career like no other.

The multi-faceted role drew Kenneth Koh, Superintendent, Cluster B4, and Koh Zhi Xiang, Personal Supervisor, Cluster B3, to join SPS and they never looked back since.

Today, they manage the prisons and secure and educate, reform and guide lost souls back to society in their own special ways.

Custodian of Our People

SPS groomed Kenneth extensively to be able to take on this important duty, supporting him every step of the way.

He rotated through many different organisations in the Home Team under SPS’ supervision, gaining practical, applicable insights as he completed each task.

“One highlight was during my secondment at the Ministry of Home Affairs. Then, I had the opportunity to staff the main act legislation changes in 2019 to better deal with the threats of terrorism financing and money laundering in Singapore,” he recalled. Other experiences included managing and repatriating the workers involved in the Little India Riot of 2013 and the SMRT bus drivers involved in the strike of 2012.

“To see all the hard work culminating in changes at the national level for a safer and more secure Singapore is satisfying.”

He puts these lessons into practice in his role as Superintendent of Institution B4, an institution housing prisoners undergoing front-end and tail-end programming and inmates under drug treatment and rehabilitation. He also enjoys the full support of the Prison Service in piloting his own initiatives, such as a series of sharing sessions in the housing unit on how to avoid being scammed by criminals, conducted by an ex-lawyer inmate.

The role is the pinnacle of multifaceted leadership, as he works with and oversees more than 90 staff and 800 inmates in the institution.

“My mandate is to work with my officers to ensure the safe custody of these inmates, and provide them with the necessary rehabilitation and support prior to their release,” he said with conviction.

Kenneth Koh

Kenneth Koh

Choosing the Service

Since childhood, Zhi Xiang always wanted to join the uniformed service. However, he was not sure where exactly he wanted to go until he chanced upon SPS’ booth during a career fair.

“I found out that prison officers play a very important role in an offender’s rehabilitation journey,” said the 30-year-old. “It inspired me to join SPS as I found the career meaningful and unique.”

SPS welcomed him with open arms, sponsoring both his Diploma in Mechatronics at Temasek Polytechnic under the Home Team Diploma Sponsorship Award and a full-time Degree in Criminology and Security at Singapore Institute of Technology – University of Liverpool under the MHA Scholarship Award.

But the greatest gain was far from the financials. It was the chance to start a career with the Home Team.

The same logic steered Kenneth towards SPS as a career.

“I was asked to consider between a teaching and a prisons scholarship. As I wanted to join a uniformed organisation with elements of discipline, uniformity and structure, I chose the latter,” the 40-year-old recalled.

Like Zhi Xiang, he also benefitted deeply, receiving the SPS Local Merit Scholarship that sponsored his Bachelor of Engineering at National University of Singapore and Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice at University of Edinburgh.

“In terms of employee engagement, we are ranked in the top tier of agencies across the Civil Service. This is an organisation which cares for its officers, has ample opportunities for development and the work is for a noble cause. ” Kenneth Koh

The Personal Touch

Zhi Xiang was quick to agree that “rehabilitation and support” are defining characteristics of SPS’ work.

He clarified: “The role of prison officer is not just about locking and unlocking, which is a common perception. Beyond that, prison officers play multiple roles in their daily operations in the rehabilitation journey of inmates.”

In his position as a Personal Supervisor (PS), he is often a vital source of support and connection, keeping them on the right path.

Thus, he fulfils his responsibilities with the gravitas they deserve. A single day could find him conducting interviews, investigating family backgrounds, and putting up requests and referrals. Other PSs also facilitate motivational classes to get inmates back on the right track.

As he goes about his duties, Zhi Xiang is grateful to be able to lean on his academic background. In university, he learnt to recognise societal issues which provided an impetus for certain criminal activities. This knowledge is put to use in counselling inmates, thus hastening the path towards rehabilitation.

His work environment can be challenging at times, but it hasn’t stopped him from doing his job to the best of his ability. He said: “A word of thanks and knowing that I play a part in the process of positive changes in their lives motivates me to keep going and do better in my role as a prison officer.”

Koh Zhi Xiang

Koh Zhi Xiang

A Career as a Captain of Care

As Zhi Xiang and Kenneth demonstrate, SPS is a place where one can bring light to those whose lives are at their darkest. But the organisation has much to offer besides a meaningful cause – it is also a place to carve out a fulfilling and forward-facing career.

“In terms of employee engagement, we are ranked in the top tier of agencies across the Civil Service,” smiled Kenneth. “This is an organisation which cares for its officers, has ample opportunities for development and the work is for a noble cause.”

“A job as a prison officer may be challenging at times, but if you are inspired to create a change in their lives in the rehabilitation journey, the job satisfaction will be worth it.” Koh Zhi Xiang

Zhi Xiang also chimed in: “A job as a prison officer may be challenging at times, but if you are inspired to create a change in their lives in the rehabilitation journey, the job satisfaction will be worth it.”

“It is a meaningful and unique career that you won’t be able to experience elsewhere!”

courage icon

Zhi Xiang spent many more years in school than the average Singaporean. He was in secondary school for five years, ITE for two years, sponsored by SPS for polytechnic studies for three years and is now sponsored by SPS to do his degree full time. Inspired by how SPS believed in him throughout his journey, he shared the following encouragement: “No matter how long you take to achieve your goal, never give up! We don’t have to compare with others, everyone has their own battle to conquer.”