Changi Prison was constructed by the British administration of the Straits Settlements as a civilian prison, in 1936.
During World War II, following the Fall of Singapore in February 1942, the Japanese military detained about 3,000 civilians in Changi Prison, which was built to house only 600 prisoners. The Japanese used the British Army's Selarang Barracks, near the prison, as a prisoner of war camp, holding some 50,000 Allied predominantly British and Australian soldiers. Although POWs were rarely if ever held in the civilian prison, the name Changi became synonymous in the UK, Australia, and elsewhere with the POW camp.
About 850 POWs died during their internment in Changi during the Japanese occupation , a relatively low rate compared to the overall death rate of 27% for POWs in Japanese camps. However, many more prisoners died after being transferred from Changi to various labour camps outside Singapore, including the Burma Railway and the Sandakan airfield.