On Assignment
MHA COS 2018: Studying for a Second Chance
Two trainees with the Reformative Training Centre (RTC) share their conviction for change and hopes for the future.

During the Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA) Committee of Supply (COS) Debate, Minister K Shanmugam, Second Minister Josephine Teo and Parliamentary Secretary Amrin Amin shared the Home Team’s plans to deal with future challenges in keeping our home safe and secure.

These included the Home Team’s commitment to support the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders. Employment is a key factor in breaking the re-offending cycle, and we are developing structured skills training programmes to help offenders secure jobs. Other initiatives include collaborating with community partners to conduct structured family programmes to help inmates and families bond and strengthen family ties.

In Part 4 of our features on MHA’s COS Debate, we look at the rehabilitative opportunities offered to two young offenders.

Adam and Irfan can still vividly recall their first moments stepping foot into the Reformative Training Centre (RTC).

While 23-year-old Irfan wasn’t sure what to expect, he was put at ease after speaking to the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) officers responsible for his care.

For 19-year-old Adam, the feeling was one of, “fear and acceptance”. “I felt surprised, actually, because stories about the institution are different from what it actually is… even the inmates themselves were friendly,” he said. “They approached me and told me [referring to his crime] ‘you were very stupid to do that’.”

Both young men have spent more than a year serving their sentences at the RTC. Adam had been convicted for housebreaking, while Irfan participated in unlicensed moneylending activities.

“I was living independently and was really in need of money, but I wasn’t aware that I’d hurt people,” recalled Irfan, who was hired by loansharks to harass debtors and chase for payments.

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A beacon for those who are willing to change: A lighthouse can be seen on the facade of Tanah Merah Prison. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

A Matter of Time

On his arrest by the Police, Irfan says, “They were already looking for me, and it was a matter of time.”

Adam’s run-in with the Law grew out of juvenile boredom. “This friend of mine came up with the idea; I didn’t think it would become housebreaking, but when the Investigating Officer told me about the charge against me, I was shocked,” recalled Adam, his voice shaking with regret.

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For RTC trainees like Irfan and Adam, the RTC library is an invaluable resource. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

Preventing Re-Offending Through RT

As part of their Reformative Training (RT), Irfan and Adam are required to undergo programmes such as counselling, education and vocational training. In the process, they are also expected to reflect on their offences, work on ways to prevent re-offending and participate in family programmes to strengthen their family relationships.

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RTC trainees are able to meet their families twice a month, either face-to-face or online via webcam. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

“When my parents came to visit me, they told me that no matter what, they wouldn’t give up on me,” said Adam. “They also told me they just wanted me to be the best of myself. I looked through their eyes at what I’d done. I realised I hurt them a lot, and the family programme helped me understand what my parents were going through.”

They told me they just wanted me to be the best of myself

Irfan’s father works as a bus driver, while his mother looks after their family of six. Irfan is the second eldest among his siblings. “The things that I have to do here are the same as what my mom wanted of me,” he said. “I felt what my mom really felt, what she’d done to take care of our family, and recalled how my dad gave us money so that we could lead a normal life.”

“My family just can’t wait for me to go out now,” quipped Irfan, who is planning to study in a local Polytechnic while working part-time to supplement the family’s expenses.

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Inmates attending a lesson inside the Prison School’s library. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

Eyeing the opportunity to enrol at a Polytechnic upon their release, Irfan and Adam are studying for their GCE “O” Levels at the RTC. Irfan will be taking exams for English, Elementary Mathematics, Principles of Accounts, Mother Tongue and Business Studies, while Adam has been cramming for a similar selection, but with Combined Science in place of Business Studies. He hopes to pursue Nautical Studies while Irfan has his eyes set on a Business course.

Encouragement Throughout the Process

For many of the RT inmates, the race to pass their “O” Levels is an uphill task, one that would have been harder if not for the encouragement of fellow trainees as well as support systems in place within the RTC.

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Inmates attending a class conducted within the Prison School. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

“I was from the ‘N’ Levels and hadn’t studied in seven years. It was stressful for me but all the inmates here are very supportive, and they are a constant source of motivation to me. They push me, even though I say ‘I can’t’. They are the ones who really motivate me, even though they are under the same pressure,” said Irfan.

“It was stressful for me but all the inmates here are very supportive, and they are a constant source of motivation to me.”

E-Learning and Homework

RTC trainees within the RTC attend classes in the morning and afternoon conducted by teachers from the Ministry of Education. They are also given E-learning materials to study and homework assignments, which they work on from within their cells at night. 

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Assignment books awaiting distribution to inmates within the Prison School. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

Even as Irfan and Adam work hard to score on their “O” Levels and secure a spot in their target Diploma programmes, there’s one more hurdle in their rehabilitative journey, and that’s the perception that people have of inmates.

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Reaching out to inmates: Adam and Irfan speaking to DSP Clifford Lin, Officer-in-Charge of Housing Unit, RTC. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

“People say that this place is for bad people, but I think we deserve a second chance because everyone makes mistakes,” said Irfan. “When I first came in, the officers here advised me on what to do and what not to do along the way. They made me feel like I had a chance to change my life.”

“Most people have a bad impression of RT boys – they come in and go out, and must then come in one more time before they can change. So they really have negative ideas about us and the RT regime,” added Adam.

“We still deserve a second chance. People see our outside, but they don’t really know
our attitude and inner abilities,” Irfan stressed.

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Study and rehabilitation programmes at the RTC give willing inmates a second chance at achieving their aspirations. PHOTO: Desmond Ang


More on Committee of Supply (COS) 2018

Read the speech by Minister K Shanmugam.

Read the speech by Second Minister Josephine Teo.

Read the speech by Parliamentary Secretary Amrin Amin.

Visit the COS 2018 webpage.

© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.


  1. by Desmond Ang
  2. 09 March 2018
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