Singapore Prison Service to rename its newsletter after facing online backlash

SPS newsletter
SPS newsletter Screenshot/

The name of the quarterly newsletter, 'Panopticon,' has drawn criticism after it was made available to the public on the website of Singapore Prison Service (SPS) and now the authorities have decided to give a "more appropriate name" after facing the backlash from some people.

It should be mentioned that the name, Panopticon, suggests that it is a type of institutional building and a system of control which was introduced by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century. It is based on the belief that society can be changed through constant surveillance with people regulating their behaviour out of fear.

An SPS spokesperson told The New Paper that the newsletter has been carrying this name since 2009 and it serves as an internal communications tool to inform, educate and engage officers. In addition, she mentioned that SPS will conduct an internal review and rename the newsletter, which was made available to the public in July 2019.

"The features of the Panopticon are seen in many modern prisons today, and the name is consistent with SPS' mission to ensure the secure custody of offenders, while at the same time rehabilitating them," the spokesperson said.

She also stated that the authority appreciates the feedback they received regarding the name of the newsletter and understand that the name could be misconducted and convey unintended and wrong imagery. So SPS will carry out an internal review to change the name.

It should be noted that last week after the screenshot of the newsletter was shared on Facebook over 500 times and many people expressed their concerns.

One of the Facebook users, Goh Li Sian, commented on the post stating that "OK this is going to sound a bit weird but I gotta say, the absurdity of SG authoritarianism is why I don't miss Singapore and the relentless pillorying with which such authoritarianism is subjected to is why I do."

Facebook post on Panopticon
Facebook post on Panopticon Facebook/ Kirsten Han

A sociologist Tan Ern Ser explained that the in academic discourse the concept of the 'Panopticon' is associated with oppression, mind control and submission to power.

He told The New Paper that while giving a title to the newsletter the authority might have thought that 'Panopticon' is suitable as it sounds attractive "which also captures the notion of efficiency and effectiveness, without realising that it is associated with negative consequences for the human condition."

But as per the sociologist, this name can be "misconstrued as endorsing total oppression and control."