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MHA COS 2018: Supporting the Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Offenders
Showing young offenders the right path.

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 collaborations with community partners to conduct structured family programmes to help inmates and families bond and strengthen family ties.

In Part 5 of our features on MHA’s COS Debate, we look at how officers of the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) are supporting the rehabilitation of young offenders.
FEB 2018 Facade of RT Centre
PHOTO: Desmond Ang

The Reformative Training Centre (RTC) rehabilitates young offenders and supports their reintegration into society by giving them the chance to study, even as they serve their detention sentences. The Centre, which is staffed by SPS officers as well as correctional rehabilitation specialists, also organises family programmes for young offenders and their parents.

“What we’re trying to do is to spark that change process,” said Ms Siti Nurzafirah, 32, who leads the team of correctional rehabilitation specialists at the RTC. “It’s a matter of whether they’re willing to change in the first place... We know it won’t happen overnight, but we want to try, and we need to have faith that they can change.”

FEB 2018 Siti from rtc profile
Ms Siti Nurzafirah joined the SPS after graduating from the National University of Singapore with a Degree in Psychology. PHOTO Desmond Ang
 
The Centre currently houses approximately 300 young offenders under the age of 21 at the time of sentencing. Their offences include crimes against public order and persons, as well as rioting, fighting, assault and unlicensed moneylending.

 

“Those who are studying are separated from those who aren’t,” said Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Clifford Lin, 32, Officer-in-Charge of Housing Unit, RTC. “Those who are studying will be at the Prison School, which is co-located within TMP. There, they undergo the full-time regime for national exams that we’re all familiar with – the ‘N’, ‘O’ and ‘A’ Level examinations.”

FEB 2018 Inmates attending lesson
 Inmates attending the Prison School are taught by teachers from the Ministry of Education. PHOTO: Desmond Ang

The RT inmates have performed well in their exams too. According to statistics released by the SPS, 123 candidates (comprising RTC trainees and adult inmates) signed up to take the “O” Levels in 2017. Of that cohort, 81.3% have passed at least three subjects, while 41.5% have passed five or more subjects.

 

There are also RT inmates who aren’t undergoing full-time studies within the Prison School. Instead, they are introduced to programmes that provide vocational qualifications. The School runs two Workforce Skills Qualifications accredited courses; one in Hotel Accommodation and Services and the other on Retail Operations.

“If they complete the entire course, they get a certificate, which will help them in their job search in the future,” said DSP Clifford.

But the rehabilitative process isn’t limited to hardware, the officers and correctional rehabilitation specialists focus on the RT inmates’ “heartware” too. Through communal meetings, the RT inmates come together as a group to speak about issues they are facing.

Feb 2018 Words of encouragement in RTC
 Words of encouragement are common throughout the RTC, as seen outside this room, which is used for group sessions. PHOTO: Desmond Ang
 
The officers also organise case conferences among themselves to discuss RT inmates who may require more intervention or a different approach. If the situation calls for it, medical staff and rehabilitation specialists are also invited to share their perspectives.

 

If the RT inmates disagree with one another or have disputes, It’s up to DSP Clifford’s team to make sure such cases are swiftly contained. “Being young, they tend to be a bit more impulsive. We do have incidents occasionally, but at the end of the day, they are living within the same group, and the same community,” said DSP Clifford.

Such disagreements also serve as teaching opportunities for the Prison officers. After disciplinary action is taken, the officers and specialist will engage the RT inmates and help them reflect on their errors.

Feb 2018 SPS Clifford talking to RT Trainee
 DSP Clifford (left) speaking to an RT inmate under his care. PHOTO: Desmond Ang
 

“The specialists and officers try to have a sensing of how our charges are, and when we notice any issues, we’ll have a chat with them. We need to build a relationship first before we can get them to confide in us,” said Ms Nurzafirah.

“There was one young offender whose behaviour wasn’t ideal. He was giving us ‘disappearing’ issues, not listening to orders from the officers and specialists, and having disagreements with his fellow RT trainees,” recalled DSP Clifford.

He decided to take a different approach with the 20-year-old. DSP Clifford talked to the young offender about his life goals and what he wanted to achieve in life. “I also shared with him that he had a long life ahead of him, one with a lot of potential. Even though he hadn’t had the best start, there was still a long runway ahead for him,” he added.

The young offender’s attitude improved. The young man began to control his negative emotions and temperament better. “In the past, when unpleasant things happened to him, his immediate response would have been to confront the other guy,” said DSP Clifford. “But slowly, he managed to calm himself down and stop himself from reacting first.”

During his Committee of Supply 2018 speech, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law Mr K Shanmugam introduced plans to further enhance the RT regime. These include amendments that will reduce the minimum detention period from the current 18 months to either six or 12 months. This allows for a more targeted approach for those who require different periods of rehabilitation.

Feb 2018 Inmate studying in RTC
 Studying for a brighter future: Inmates during a class within the Prison School. PHOTO: Desmond Ang
 

According to DSP Clifford, this reduction in sentence means that more important programmes can be prioritised. “The RT sentence isn’t just about detention, but also about post-detention. Even though the RT inmates will be spending less time in here, there’s still the support that we provide when they return to the community,” he explained.

For Ms Nurzafirah, it’s all about giving young offenders a sense of their own future. “One of the most important things is for them to have hope, to feel that they can change. If they don’t have this motivation, it will be hard for us to move them forward,” she said.


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. 12 March 2018
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