“Us” and “Them”: Ethnic Minority Gangs in Singapore Prisons

31 December, 2019

Prison Fence

The Societies Ordinance was enacted on 1 January 1890, with the aim of eliminating Chinese secret societies in the Straits Settlements of Singapore, Penang, and Malacca. Although this was an important milestone in Singapore’s history, there is a shortage of studies on the phenomenon of gangs in Singapore, with the handful that discuss it focusing on Chinese secret societies.

‘“Us” and “Them”: Ethnic Minority Gangs in Singapore Prisons’ (Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, 2016) by Associate Professor Narayanan Ganapathy from the NUS Department of Sociology is the first empirical study to analyze ethnic minority gangs which have emerged within Singapore prisons. It examines the two most important ethnic minority gangs, Omega and Sara Jumbo, which are made up exclusively of ethnic Malays and Indians respectively.

According to A/P Ganapathy, the main reason for these gangs’ formations is ethnic consciousness and racialization processes within the prison institution. The racialized hierarchy in the criminal underworld has led to a structural relegation of minority members to low-level positions in Chinese secret societies, as well as the total exclusion of minority gangs from the market of illicit activities. It is this marginality that ethnic minority inmates react to and organize themselves into gangs, where they use physical violence as a resource for constructing a specific raw and racialized masculinity to negotiate the disadvantageous racial and class structures.

Read the article here: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1043986216656686?journalCode=ccja