Types of Detention Orders: What You Should Know

by 30 November 2023Criminal Defence, Knowledge & Insights

If you have been found guilty of a criminal offence, the Court may sometimes issue you with a Detention Order rather than sentence you to imprisonment. While similar to imprisonment in the sense that you will be confined to a certain place for a period of time, certain Detention Orders – if successfully completed – do not leave you with a criminal record.

Also referred to as community-based sentences, a Detention Order combines punishment with rehabilitation and is usually issued to low-risk offenders for less serious crimes. Detention Orders are generally monitored and managed by the Commissioner of Prisons.

Here are the different types of Detention Orders you may be served with and what they entail in Singapore:


Detention Order (DO) For Youths 

This is only applicable to young offenders below the age of 16. The Youth Court may issue a DO to detain the individual for up to 6 months, until they are rehabilitated, or reach 18. Should the Youth Court impose a DO together with a Probation Order, the detention period should not exceed 3 months. The DO may be extended, however, if further offences are committed during the initial detention period.

During the DO, the youth offender will reside in a place of detention such as the Singapore Boys’ Home or Singapore Girls’ Home, and undergo academic and rehabilitative programmes to have the best chance of reintegrating into society. There is no criminal record for a DO.


Weekend Detention Order (WDO)

Also applicable only to young offenders under 16, a WDO requires the individual to report to a place of detention for up to 26 weekends – defined as from 3 pm on Saturdays to 5 pm on Sundays. Outside these hours, the youth offender can continue attending school or work normally. Like a DO, the youth offender will undergo academic and rehabilitative programmes to prepare them for returning to society. There is no criminal record for a WDO.

Should the youth offender fail to report to their place of detention without reasonable cause, fail to comply with any of the conditions of the WDO, or commit another offence, possible consequences include:

  • The Court making a new order against the offender, such as probation
  • Being issued with a full-time DO rather than just a WDO


Short Detention Order (SDO)

Depending on the circumstances of the case, the nature of the offence, and the character of the offender, the Court may choose to impose an SDO rather than a prison sentence. An SDO detains the offender in prison for a period of up to 14 days. Still the main difference between an SDO and imprisonment is that, if properly served, an SDO does not leave a criminal record.

However, a prison sentence may be imposed if the offender breaches the SDO or fails to comply with its conditions.


Home Detention Order (HDO) 

It’s important to note that HDOs are only issued to offenders who have already been handed prison sentences – rather than serving their sentence in prison, a HDO allows them to serve their jail time at home once they have completed at least 4 weeks in prison. This means there will already be a criminal record.

Sometimes referred to as house arrest, a HDO should not exceed 12 months, and requires the offender to:

  1. Follow strict curfews and remain within their residence during the times specified in the HDO
  2. Attend counselling, therapy, or psychological assessment
  3. Provide a urine or hair specimen for testing at any point when asked
  4. Be electronically monitored at all times

Should there be failure to comply, the HDO can be revoked and the offender will have to serve the rest of their sentence in prison.


Preventive Detention Order 

Preventive Detention Orders are considered a very severe form of punishment. The Court usually issues these orders against offenders with a high risk of re-offending and posing a danger to the public. A separate regimen from imprisonment, Preventive Detention Orders are enforced on recalcitrant offenders of at least 30 years of age, and the sentence can last between 7 to 20 years.

There are 3 stages to a Preventive Detention Order:

  • Stage one: the offender is treated like any other inmate
  • Stage two: small privileges are granted such as sending and receiving of letters, or having visitors
  • Stage three: the offender is allowed to gradually transition back into the community, perhaps through modified imprisonment conditions

Note that there is Preventive Detention Order under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for offenders suspected of activities that threaten Singapore’s national security, but this is only used as a last resort.


Detention Without Trial

Under section 30 of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLTPA), the Minister for Home Affairs can allow the detention of suspected criminals without trial for up to 12 months as long as it is deemed necessary to protect public safety, peace, and good order.

Criminal activities that can lead to detention without trial tend to be gang-related, and include:

  • Unlicensed moneylending
  • Drug trafficking
  • Human trafficking
  • Robbery with firearms
  • Murder
  • Kidnapping

Detention without trial only applies to offenders aged 18 and above with certain specified criminal activities. Detention without trial will apply as long as the Minister for Home Affairs deems it is in the interests of public safety, peace and good order.


Preventive Detention Under The Internal Security Act (ISA)

Preventive Detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in Singapore is a form of detention that allows the government to detain individuals without trial for an initial period of up to 30 days, if they are considered a threat to national security or public order.

The President of Singapore can extend this period for up to two years at a time, subject to periodic reviews. The ISA is often used for matters related to terrorism, espionage, or activities that incite racial or religious hatred. This is also used as a last resort as the use of preventive detention under the ISA has been a subject of controversy and debate concerning civil liberties.


Conclusion About Detention Orders

Singapore’s legal landscape offers a diverse range of detention orders and related instruments designed to serve various purposes, from assisting in ongoing investigations to facilitating the rehabilitation of offenders.

The complexity of these orders highlights Singapore’s nuanced approach to law enforcement and justice, balancing public safety, rehabilitation, and societal order.

However, it also underscores the importance of public awareness and legal scrutiny to ensure these instruments are applied judiciously and fairly. Always consult legal experts for the most current and personalised advice, as laws and their interpretations can change over time.

Any time you are in a situation that could lead to criminal charges, it is important to get legal counsel. Let our experienced team of criminal defence lawyers guide you through every step of your case with precision and attention so you know what will happen next. Contact us today for a discussion.


Frequently Asked Questions About Detention Orders In Singapore

What Is A Conditional Warning?

A Conditional Warning is not a detention order but an alternative to prosecution. It allows an offender to avoid criminal charges if they adhere to specific conditions within a stipulated period.

What Is A Community Order?

A Community Order is a non-custodial sentence requiring the offender to carry out certain activities in the community, such as community service or attending rehabilitative programs.

What Types Of Offences Can Result In An SDO? 

SDOs can be applied to a range of offences, but they are generally reserved for less serious crimes where imprisonment is deemed necessary, but a longer sentence is not warranted.

What Are The Main Differences Between An SDO And Probation?

An SDO involves actual imprisonment for a short period, while probation involves supervision in the community without imprisonment. Probation may also include conditions like counselling and community service.

About the author

About the author

Jonathan Wong

Jonathan is the Founder and Managing Director of Tembusu Law. He is also the founder of LawGuide Singapore, a prominent legaltech startup which successfully created and launched Singapore’s first legal chatbot in 2017.


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