20 Jan 2014

Prisons (Amendment) Bill – Response Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs

Introduction

            Madam Speaker, I thank all the Members who have spoken in support of the Bill and the two new policy initiatives, the Conditional Remission System (CRS) and Mandatory Aftercare Scheme (MAS). 

2.          Members have raised a number of points on the CRS, MAS, and the other amendments to the Prisons Act. I will address these in turn.

Re-offending and Recidivism

3.          I am glad that Members, such as Mr Chris De Souza and Dr Janil Puthucheary, are just as concerned about the problem of re-offending and the vicious cycle that repeat offenders face. Dr Puthucheary asked about the main reasons for recidivism. There is often no simple, single answer or solution to this. Rather, the underlying causes are typically multi-faceted.

4.           However, based on our research and interviews with ex-inmates, we have generally found that the presence of factors such as employment, accommodation, and family support typically reduce the risk of reoffending.  I would also like to highlight that the individual’s will to change is also very important.

Conditional Remission Scheme

5.           Let me now touch on the issues relating to remission and the Conditional Remission Scheme. Dr Puthucheary asked whether the CRS will be effective in deterrence. Given the complexity of the factors leading to recidivism, it would be difficult to determine whether the deterrent effect of the CRS will be different between first timers and repeat offenders. I would also like to respond to Mr Hri Kumar’s question on the application of the CRS to those committed for debt under the Debtors Act. Currently, the Prisons Regulations also provide that remission does not apply to inmates committed for debt. A debtor may be committed by the courts to prison for not paying his debt in certain limited circumstances and not because he had committed a criminal offence. There is no change from the current position today.

6.           Default sentences are imposed on a person, should he be unable to pay a fine. These inmates will continue to be released at the 2/3rd mark and not be subject to conditional remission. This is for parity with those who were able to pay their fines.

7.           Associate Professor Eugene Tan asked about when inmates will be released. Inmates will continue to be released at the 2/3rd mark. Upon release, they will then be issued with a Conditional Remission Order which will last till the end of their sentence. This does not undermine the incentive for good conduct and behaviour in prison. Inmates who breach prison discipline will still have their release delayed beyond the 2/3rd mark of their sentence. This is no different from the situation today. Remission continues to be an incentive for good conduct and behaviour. The relevant provisions are specified in Section 50I of Clause 7.

8.          I would also like to reassure Ms Sylvia Lim that we are not changing the power of the President to grant remission under the Act. The power of the President to grant remission without limit is provided for under Article 22P of the Constitution. Hence, the provision in the Prisons Regulations is not necessary.

9.          Next, I am glad that Ms Lim supports the provision to review inmates who have served more than 20 years in prison for release. We will be setting up an independent Review Board to review these cases and advise the Minister accordingly. The assessment will be based on a holistic assessment of factors that include his conduct and progress in prison and his risk of re-offending. This is similar to the arrangement for inmates that have been sentenced to life imprisonment.

10.          Ms Lim also touched on the forfeiture and subsequent restoration of remission. Under the Prisons Regulations, an inmate may forfeit up to 180 days of remission for offences committed in prison. However, the Superintendant may restore up to 7 days of remission which had previously been forfeited by an inmate. The new Section 77A also empowers the Superintendant to restore remission that had previously been forfeited by an inmate, but does not impose a limit on the number of days that can be restored. This creates the incentive for good conduct and behaviour among inmates. The Director of Prisons will set strict guidelines for all Prison Superintendants to adhere to in the exercise of these powers.

Philosophy of the MAS

11.           The objective of the MAS is to help ex-inmates help themselves. We will do this by giving them the support and assistance they need to stay crime-free and stay out of prison. Most, if not all who are eligible for MAS as defined in the First Schedule will be emplaced on MAS. Mr Kumar had asked why certain offences in the Misuse of Drugs Regulations were included. For the First Schedule, we have included property and drug offences that are commonly linked to the drug problem.

12.          The MAS provides continuity to the incare rehabilitation programmes that inmates receive while in prison. It builds on, brings together, and improves upon existing aftercare programmes as part of Prisons’ broader throughcare strategy. The intent, as Associate Professor Tan has mentioned, is to provide a smooth transition for the inmate to reintegrate into society. Each ex-inmate, or “released person” as suggested by Mr Christopher De Souza, emplaced on the MAS will be assigned a case worker prior to his release.

13.           As part of the casework and counselling process, the case worker will refer them to the various social assistance programmes available to address their needs. These could include short-term financial assistance, shelter and housing, skills training, and job matching.

14.          The MAS is not a journey that the ex-inmate embarks on alone, but one undertaken with the support of his family and the community. I agree with Mr Zainal Bin Sapari and Associate Professor Tan that the community as a whole, including families and potential employers, play an important role in supporting the MAS. This is important even during the incare phase and Prisons already actively involves inmates’ families in the rehabilitation process. Prisons will also continue to engage families after inmates have been released from prison under the MAS. Similarly, SCORE provides inmates with vocational training and employment matching before their release. SCORE also works with employers to match inmates and ex-inmates to jobs after their release. In 2012, SCORE emplaced 5,840 offenders on its employment and reintegration programmes. This is almost double the number in 2008. Of those assisted by SCORE, almost 98% of them successfully secured employment in 2012.

15.         We also recognise that religion can play a part in the reintegration process. We have a comprehensive support structure of community partners, including religious organisations that work with inmates in prison and are ready to provide a pro-social network of volunteers and befrienders to all ex-inmates and assist them in their reintegration into society. Such engagements begin while the inmate is still in prison so that it is a smooth transition to the aftercare phase when the inmate returns to society. This multi-stakeholder approach to throughcare has worked well and we will continue to work closely with the various stakeholders and community partners on our throughcare programmes.

16.         Next, I would like to reassure Mr Sapari and Associate Professor Tan that Prisons will first make a holistic assessment of each individual based on factors such as the nature of offence, criminal antecedents, progress in prison, risk of re-offending, and family support. Each inmate will then be emplaced on a suitable programme within the MAS. Not all individuals will have to go through all the 3 MAS phases of a halfway house stay, home supervision, and community reintegration. Some may be placed on the halfway house phase while others may be placed directly on the home supervision phase.

17.         The time spent and intensity of the programme at each phase depends on the ex-inmate’s progress over the course of the MAS that can last up to 2 years.

18.        Let me briefly outline the regime for an inmate under the MAS. Take the example of an inmate who is a repeat drug abuser and was sentenced to Long-Term imprisonment for 6 years. He is subsequently released from prison after serving 4 years, or at the 2/3rd mark of his 6-year sentence. He is then issued a CRO and subject to the basic condition for 2 years. As a drug offender, he is also emplaced on the MAS for up to 2 years.

19.         Based on Prisons’ assessment of this inmate’s circumstances, he is emplaced in a halfway house upon his release. The halfway house programme is a residential programme that will last for at least 6 months. There, he undergoes regular counselling and casework sessions to address his rehabilitation and aftercare needs. These sessions are meant to address his criminogenic needs and risk factors of re-offending. He will be able to leave the halfway house during the day to work.

20.          After several months in the halfway house, he is assessed to be coping well and making good progress in his rehabilitation and reintegration journey. Hence, he is allowed to return home and continues on the MAS while on home supervision.

21.          When on home supervision, he is subject to curfew hours and electronic monitoring, and continues to attend counselling and casework sessions. After several months on home supervision, he is assessed to be progressing well. He will then be placed on the final phase of the MAS, the community reintegration phase. As part of community reintegration, he is no longer subject to curfew hours or electronic monitoring. However, he will still need to attend counselling and casework sessions. This will continue till the end of his time on the MAS, which will be for up to 2 years.

22.        I hope the example shows how the MAS is a structured programme with progressive step-down aftercare arrangements to help the individual reintegrate into society, and help him adapt to “post-imprisonment realities”, as Associate Professor Tan put it. However, I would like to emphasise that it is just as important that the ex-inmate be motivated to help himself.

23.         There will be consequences when MAS ex-inmates breach their conditions. Mr Kumar asked about what constituted a minor and a serious breach. An ex-inmate would have committed a minor breach, for example, when he misses his counselling sessions or breaches his curfew hours. For such breaches, the Director of Prisons may administer punishments, from tightening the ex-inmate’s conditions to temporarily recalling him to prison. An ex-inmate would have committed a serious breach, for example, if he tampers with his electronic monitoring device, or if he has committed multiple minor breaches. For such breaches, the courts may sentence the ex-inmate to imprisonment for up to the remaining duration of his remission period at the time of the serious breach. Minor and serious breaches will be stipulated in the Prisons Regulations. The body administering punishments for breaches is calibrated to the severity of the consequences of the breach. 

Strengthening the Aftercare Sector

24.          As several Members noted, the CRS and MAS are significant undertakings for Prisons. I would like to reassure Members that Prisons has sufficient capacity, should there be an increase in the prison population arising from breaches of the basic condition and MAS conditions.

25.          At the same time, with the implementation of the MAS, Prisons will be building up its aftercare capabilities and strengthening the aftercare sector as whole. Prisons will be developing a Halfway House in the new Selarang Park Complex to provide a structured environment to supervise and rehabilitate ex-inmates emplaced on the MAS. It will cater to both male and female ex-inmates, and will complement the efforts of our current halfway house partners who work with lower-risk inmates. Prisons will also engage more case workers to provide counselling and casework. These case workers will begin working closely with inmates during their pre-release phase to begin preparations for their eventual reintegration into society. Furthermore, Prisons has recently developed a new training and development framework to raise the competencies and capabilities of our volunteers and community partners to support the aftercare of ex-inmates in the community. We will continue to work closely with our community partners, including halfway house operators, to raise the capabilities within the sector. These are worthwhile investments and initiatives, and we hope to see improvements in recidivism rates over the longer term, with fewer ex-inmates returning to prison and a lower prison population over time.

26.          I would also like to clarify that the MAS will not replace but builds on current aftercare programmes. There is still a place for aftercare programmes run by our community partners, the Singapore After-Care Association (SACA) and the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA), which all ex-inmates may register for, after their release from prison or after they complete the MAS. Halfway houses that are operated by VWOs accept walk-ins from ex-inmates. Those who are not covered by the MAS will continue to be able to benefit from these programmes.

27.          Our experience with aftercare programmes has been positive. Since November 2012, we have been administering a scheme similar to the MAS. Known as the Enhanced Supervision Scheme (ESS), it requires higher risk drug offenders sentenced to Long-Term imprisonment and who are subsequently released to comply with conditions such as curfew hours, electronic monitoring and regular urine testing. They are also required to attend counselling and case management by prison counsellors.

28.          It has been slightly more than a year since the implementation of the ESS, which is a 12-month programme, and we are beginning to see some encouraging results.  Our initial findings suggest that the ESS has been useful in helping ex-inmates with their reintegration into society.  With the help of case workers, about 70% of ESS ex-inmates were able to secure accommodation, and about 60% were able to find employment. Let me share the case of Harry (not his real name), a repeat drug abuser who was sentenced to Long-Term imprisonment. He is 50 years old and single. Harry describes himself as an impulsive person who had abused drugs for over 20 years. He has Primary 4 education and had never held employment for more than 1 year at a time. He was emplaced on the ESS for a period of 12 months after his release in Nov 2012.

29.          Prior to his release, Prisons engaged Harry's siblings to encourage them to support Harry’s reintegration into society. In turn, his eldest brother was there to fetch him on the day he came out of prison. They are now in regular contact. Harry is currently living in a one-room rental flat. Harry attended a Forklift training course while in prison, and continued with the course after his release. He is now employed as a warehouse assistant. He attends religious services weekly and has met new friends.

30.          Harry has since successfully completed the 12 months of enhanced supervision. His experience epitomises the spirit of aftercare – providing structure and support to help ex-inmates help themselves.

Employment of APOs in Prisons

31.          Ms Sylvia Lim asked about the amendments to the provisions on the employment of auxiliary police officers, or APOs, as escorts and guards. The objective of these proposed amendments is to facilitate the expanded deployment of APOs so that prison officers can focus on the the rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates.

32.         APOs currently assist prison officers with escorting inmates of low- and medium-security risk to external locations such as the courts or to hospitals and guarding them while there. The amended provision will enable APOs to be deployed for functions such as inmate escort within the prisons complex, and the patrolling of prisons. They will not be involved in rehabilitation functions. APOs deployed within the prisons setting will continue to receive specialised training to deal with inmates.

33.         The amendment will not compromise prison security nor the safe custody of inmates. Prisons remains fully accountable for the safe custody of inmates both within and outside of prison.

External Placement Scheme

34.         Finally, on the External Placement Scheme, I would like to clarify Associate Professor Tan’s point about the EPS as well as address Ms Lim’s queries on the need for and safeguards for the EPS. The EPS is distinct from the MAS. The EPS, unlike the MAS, is not meant to be step-down arrangement to help reintegrate an inmate into society. The EPS is meant to right-site inmates in places more suited for their physical or mental conditions. For a start, the Scheme will be tightly scoped. We will limit eligibility only to inmates who have been certified by Prisons’-appointed medical specialists as being at the end-stage of a terminal illness with a poor prognosis. In addition, the Minister will be advised by an independent committee that will include medical professionals. Finally, the inmate will be subject to conditions and restrictions and closely monitored. The placement can be cancelled at any time if the inmate’s circumstances change and external placement is no longer deemed appropriate. 

Conclusion

35.         Madam Speaker, I am glad that members agree with me that there is a need to do more to deter offending and re-offending and help ex-inmates rehabilitate and reintegrate into society. The amendments, which seek to introduce the CRS and MAS, will strengthen Prisons’ through-care system, particularly in the aftercare phase. These two initiatives mark a paradigm shift in our rehabilitation of inmates. However, the inmate’s motivation and will to change and his determination to turn over a new leaf for the sake of his family and himself is critical.   Together, with the support of the community and employers, we will help ex-inmates break the cycle of re-offending, return to their families and reintegrate into society.

36.          I urge Members of the House to give your support to the Prisons (Amendment) Bill.
 

Last Updated on 10 Jun 2015
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