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Supporting Halfway House Residents Through COVID-19
Championing the rehabilitation of offenders, despite the challenges of COVID-19 – it’s all in a day’s work for SPS' steadfast halfway house partners.

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PHOTOS: Rachel Sin

The eight halfway houses working with the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) are vital partners in providing transitional support for offenders as they reintegrate into society. SPS works with these halfway houses to provide structured counselling, rehabilitation and case management services for offenders in the community, ensuring continuity of care to address their reintegration needs. 

In responding to COVID-19, halfway houses have adapted in many different ways to ensure that their vital work can continue. We spoke to the representatives of three halfway houses to find out how they’ve supported offenders through COVID-19, and what drives them to transform lives for the better. 

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WHAT TRULY SUSTAINS US IS COMPASSION
Mr Mervyn Lim; CEO, The Helping Hand 
Founded in 1987, The Helping Hand is a Christian-based halfway house located at Upper Serangoon Road that offers family counselling, life-skills learning and work opportunities (in furniture repair and moving services, for example) to offenders. 

“For the past 37 years, I’ve been in the corporate world. In my most recent role, I was the Deputy Group CEO and Group CFO for SingPost. In 2019, I participated in the National Council of Social Service’s Sun Ray programme, which seeks to develop people in order to meet the needs of the social service sector, and that was how I came to join The Helping Hand. 

“At The Helping Hand, spiritual therapy serves as a bedrock for offenders as they embark on their rehabilitative journey. Here, we can make a positive change in the lives of offenders who want a second chance in life.

“Needless to say, my experiences here at The Helping Hand contrast greatly with those in the corporate world. My mandate is to encourage offenders and recovering addicts to be transformed to live Christ-centred lives; nurture the team; and tackle issues related to our evolving resident profile. 

“For example, one of our goals is to redesign our social enterprise activities to better suit older residents. That’s why, in addition to our moving service, carpentry service and furniture sales enterprise, we’ve started to explore other potential activities such as F&B. 

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Building a foundation: At the carpentry workshop of The Helping Hand.
 
“When the Circuit Breaker was implemented in April, we needed to deal with a number of challenges quickly. To adhere to safe distancing guidelines, we made special arrangements for our staff and tailored programmes for our residents. 

“A core team of 13 staff (out of approximately 46) were able to work on-site to ensure that the residents remained engaged via redesigned programmes focusing on spiritual, work, social and physical therapies. We also scheduled Zoom calls for our residents so that they could remain connected with their families.

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Planting the seed of change: During the Circuit Breaker, Mr Lim and his team initiated a modest urban farming project for residents.
 
“As we weren’t able to conduct our usual moving and carpentry services during the Circuit Breaker, we took the opportunity to expand our urban farming activities. We now have about 20 raised beds (comprising six pots per bed) of homegrown lettuce, kangkong, kailan and broccoli. By tending to the vegetables, our residents learn important values such as patience, responsibility and calmness. 

“Since July, we’ve been able to gradually return to our usual programmes and activities, all while observing safe distancing measures. On a personal note, I feel that the past few months have been a blessing in disguise as it has really allowed me to make a distinction between passion and compassion. 

“With passion, we start out strong but may eventually fizzle out, leaving us feeling burnt-out and performing poorly. 

“But what can truly sustain us is compassion, and empathy. Despite the challenges brought about by COVID-19, we've all continued in our work by putting our residents first.”

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TEACHING OFFENDERS TO PAY IT FORWARD
Mr Mohamad Faizal Bin Abas; Head, Jamiyah Halfway House (Darul Islah) 
Located along a quiet stretch of Pasir Panjang Road, Jamiyah Halfway House was established in 1996 and is led by Mr Mohamad Faizal and a dedicated team of 26 staff. 

“I’ve served with Jamiyah Halfway House for 10 years and was appointed Head in 2018. I’m an adventurous person at heart, with a love of mountain biking, and a proud father of two kids. 

“My main duty is to ensure that operations run smoothly at Jamiyah Halfway House and that our rehabilitation programmes and services are effective, so that residents receive the support they need to reintegrate into society. 

“Every faith teaches us good values and to seek to transform our lives for the better through prayer and meditation. That’s why the faith-based aspect of our programmes is vital. At Jamiyah Halfway House, it also demonstrates to residents that the community at large cares about them, and this teaches them how to pay forward the goodness that they’ve received.

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Adapting to COVID-19: A group counselling session at Jamiyah Halfway House, with safe distancing measures in place.
 
“When COVID-19 first struck, our priority was the safety of the residents, their families and our staff. We quickly set-up a system for regular temperature scanning and designated a special room for residents who felt unwell, in case it was needed. We also implemented safe distancing measures for our offices, residences, common areas and prayer hall. 

“Even though some of the programmes were affected by the Circuit Breaker, we found ways to continue as much as possible. For example, during counselling sessions, residents and staff will maintain the necessary distance. We’ve also worked closely with potential employers by organising virtual recruitment sessions and job interviews for our residents. 

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Planning session: Mr Faizal and his management team in a meeting with Dr Isa Hassan (left), Vice President III of Jamiyah Singapore.

“Thankfully, we’ve been able to resume many of our usual activities and services. In fact, we’ve been able to expand our art therapy programme and will soon be launching a music therapy programme that provides us with a new platform to address the needs of residents.

“For me, the COVID-19 situation is a reminder of why we need to consider the well-being – both mental and emotional – of those around us. COVID-19 has impacted many different aspects of our lives, and we have to continue working to reduce the uncertainty and stress that it has caused.” 
 
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A BEACON THAT GIVES DIRECTION AND STRENGTH
Mr Lee Jun Jie; Deputy Head, Green Haven
True to its name, Green Haven is located in a leafy corner of Sembawang. Established in 1992 by Singapore Buddhist Welfare Services, it is the only Buddhist halfway house in Singapore and has about 15 staff who provide rehabilitation and reintegration programmes to residents, with ample space for urban farming activities. 

“I’ve been with Green Haven since 2013. Prior to this, I worked in the Human Resources domain because I’m passionate about meeting and engaging people from all walks of life. 

“When I joined Green Haven, I was still relatively new to the social service sector, but as I learnt more about what we do, I realised that there many groups, such as offenders, who need our support, and that’s what motivates me now. 

“Currently, I assist the Head of the Halfway House, Venerable Kuan Yan, with managing our operations and rehabilitation programmes. We work hard to engage with residents and their family members. Besides counselling, residents also undergo activities such as horticultural therapy, skills-based learning and aftercare programmes. It’s very important for me to keep in mind that we’re dealing with real people, and to approach their issues with empathy.

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Farming activities at Green Haven’s community garden serve as a form of horticultural therapy to residents.

“Prior to the Circuit Breaker in April, we were already in discussions with our partners to ensure the safety of our residents. We’re very grateful for the support that SPS has provided; checking that we had sufficient masks, thermometers and hand sanitisers, especially during the early days of COVID-19 when there were concerns about shortages. 

“As we implemented safe distancing and mask-wearing measures, SPS also supported us by helping to educate residents. We had to reduce the frequency of our usual activities, yet carry on with our counselling rehabilitation programmes. Although observing safety measures was challenging for some of our residents at first, we explained that this was the new normal that we all had to adhere to, for everyone’s safety. 

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Creative expressions: Craft items made by residents of Green Haven.
 
“Thankfully, we’ve now resumed some of our usual activities. To residents who may feel lost or challenged, we tell them that their faith can be a beacon that gives them direction and strength.” 


The Halfway House Service Model
Halfway houses offer key community support for offenders and play an instrumental role in facilitating their successful reintegration. Implemented by SPS in 2010, the Halfway House Service Model provides a structured aftercare framework for offenders to serve the tail-end of their sentences in the community through SPS' halfway house partners. 

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PHOTOS: MOS Faishal FB

In recent months, Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development, has visited a number of halfway houses to learn how they’ve carried on their operations and programmes despite the challenges posed by COVID-19. Learn more about his visits to The Helping Hand, Jamiyah Halfway House and Green Haven.
© 2019 Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore. All Rights Reserved.


  1. by Rachel Sin
  2. 22 October 2020
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