Police, prison service respond to woman's letter on treatment of detained mother
Standard procedures were followed and several opportunities were given for a 74-year-old woman to contact her family during her arrest, said the prison service and police force.
They were responding to a letter published on Wednesday in The Straits Times Forum page by Madam Gertrude Simon that her mother Josephine Savarimuthu was handcuffed and had leg restraints on when she was moved between the police station, Changi Women's Prison (CWP) and the court.
She wrote that there was a need for the police and government agencies to re-examine the procedures involving elderly suspects, and that factors like their age, health and mental state, along with the seriousness of the offence, had to be considered.
A joint statement by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) and Singapore Police Force (SPF) last night said she was not restrained by the police, and this was done only when she was transferred to prison as part of standard procedures.
"Throughout her time with the police, Madam Simon's mother was not restrained, and was offered food and water. She did not show any sign of being traumatised, and was alert when in police custody," it added.
The statement said Madam Savarimuthu had lodged a police report at Ang Mo Kio South Neighbourhood Police Centre on March 4 - a Saturday - for a missing pawn ticket. While processing her report, the police officer discovered that Madam Savarimuthu had an outstanding warrant of arrest issued by the court in 2016 for failing to attend court relating to a town council summons.
It added that Madam Savarimuthu admitted she had an outstanding case with the town council. She was placed under arrest and transferred to Ang Mo Kio Police Division, where she was allowed to call a bailor but declined to do so, said the agencies, adding that she was transferred to the State Courts the same morning to process her outstanding arrest warrant.
The statement said that at the State Courts, Madam Savarimuthu was again asked if she wished to contact anyone for bail, but she declined again.
"If she had accepted the bail offer, she would have been released that day, and attended court another day," it added.
Madam Savarimuthu was then escorted by SPS officers to CWP to be remanded until March 6, a Monday, which was the next available date for court mention.
In her transfer to prison, Madam Savarimuthu was restrained at the hands and legs, which is part of SPS' standard operating procedures, which include preventing persons in custody from harming themselves, the agencies said.
At the prison, Madam Savarimuthu provided the contact details of her granddaughter, who was reached on the same day about what had happened, the next court date and procedure for bail.
The agencies said Madam Simon went to CWP and was informed by SPS officers on the court procedures for bailing out her mother.
"She was also reassured that SPS was aware of her mother's pre-existing medical condition and that she was being provided with the necessary medication and assistance," it added.
"The police and SPS have a duty to enforce the law and to ensure that the rule of law is respected. At the same time, we are committed to ensuring the well-being and safety of persons in our custody."
Speaking to The Straits Times last night at her Ang Mo Kio flat with Madam Simon by her side, the elderly woman said the town council matter involved the wrongful placement of potted plants outside her flat, which amounted to an offence involving a $400 fine.
Of her encounter, she said: "I feel very sad. Why did they do this to an old woman?"
She added of her experience at the police station: "I was confused, I did not know what to say."
Madam Simon, 55, said her mother - who lives alone - could not recall the contact details of any relatives while in custody as she was "stressed and overwhelmed". As a result, the family found out only later that day after a CWP officer contacted them.
Despite the agencies' account, Madam Simon said her mother was handcuffed and restrained when she was moved from the police post to the police division and to the courts. But she said her mother, who suffers from several illness, was thankfully placed in the medical ward in prison, where she received her daily doses of medicine.
"When I saw her after her release, she was very quiet and when I brought her home, she slept with her hands closed to her face, like in handcuffs," she added.
JOINT STATEMENT BY SPS AND SPF
Key points of joint statement from the police and prison service:
When Madam Josephine Savarimuthu was in police custody after her arrest on March 4, she was not restrained, and was offered food and water. She did not show any sign of being traumatised, and was alert when in police custody.
She was asked if she wanted to call someone to bail her out, once at the police station and then in court. She declined both times. If she had accepted the bail offer, she would have been released that day, before going to court another day.
After attending court on the morning of March 4, she was escorted by prison officers to Changi Women's Prison to be remanded until March 6, the next available date for court mention. During her transfer, she was restrained at the hands and legs. This is part of the prison service's standard operating procedures, which include preventing people in custody from harming themselves.
It was while in remand that she provided the contact number of a family member. The prison made contact on the same day. On March 5, Madam Savarimuthu's daughter went to the prison. She was unable to see her mother as there was no visitation on Sunday. Officers told her that they were aware of her mother's pre-existing medical condition and that she was being provided with the necessary help. The daughter bailed her mother out from the State Courts on March 6.
It is appalling that a weak old woman was subjected to such harsh treatment. Law enforcement officers must be empowered to exercise flexibility to handle such cases with empathy and more humane considerations.
MADAM GERTRUDE SIMON, in her letter published on Wednesday in The Straits Times
WHAT THE AUTHORITIES SAY
Throughout her time with the police, Madam Simon's mother was not restrained, and was offered food and water. She did not show any sign of being traumatised, and was alert when in police custody... During her transfer to CWP, Madam Simon's mother was restrained at the hands and legs. This is part of SPS' standard operating procedures, which include preventing persons in custody from harming themselves.
Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.