Published: 05 December 2020
Chairman, Architects of Life (AOL),
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. Good afternoon. I met Glenn all two years ago. It is good to see you again, and good to see the good work carrying on.
2. Today is your 6th anniversary celebrations and the launch of your second book “My Sentence to Success”. Two years ago, AOL launched the first book “From Stereotypes to Archetypes” and it featured stories of six ex-offenders.
3. I read them. They were heartwarming stories. I wrote a short blurb for this first book. I support the work that you are doing. It is extremely important because we have a personal interest at the Ministry of Home Affairs, and I’ll come back to that shortly.
4. The second book “My Sentence to Success” features inspirational quotes that have helped guide 30 ex-offenders in their journey.
5. My hope, and I’m sure your hope too, is that these stories will inspire ex-offenders as they are seeking to make a positive change in their lives, generate awareness of their struggles, and tell others who are in a similar situation or could be in a similar situation, that there is hope. That you can change, and that you can make good, and remind the rest of us to encourage them on their journey.
6. I thank AOL, I thank your partners, volunteers, and mentors in helping to rehabilitate and reintegrate ex-offenders.
OUR APPROACH TO REHABILITATION
7. Let me spend a few minutes talking about the approach that the Government, and that Prisons in particular, takes, and the philosophy, and how that syncs with the AOL’s approach. We are pulling in the same direction.
8. The Singapore Prison Service (SPS) launched the “Captains of Lives” concept in 1999, or 21 years ago.
9. In the past, in many countries, when you have done something wrong, you are put into prison, and then you go out. Prison is seen as a place where you are to be kept out of trouble, and you are released. Very often, people come back, and that’s called the recidivism rate.
10. We decided that prison is a place where our prison officers could be Captains of Lives – that is our motto. That’s a place where substantive change can be made. We look at you, we identify different categories – people who are more at risk, medium risk, lower risk. What sort of intervention programmes can we do for you? How can we help you change your life? How can we provide counselling? How can we give you skills to develop, so that when you leave, you have the skill sets to cope with life – personal skill sets as well as economic skills sets. How can we help you study?
11. We are hoping that the period you had spent would be transformative, and to do that, we need a lot of partners. I must say that a lot of churches play a very important role, and a lot of volunteers. They come in, because prison officers and Government alone, can only go so far. But, the additional dimensions – the spiritual dimension, the religious dimension, the dimensions outside – these can only be given by additional volunteers with their hearts and their minds. We have been very lucky that we have many of them.
12. After the Prisons introduced this concept, if you look at the 1998 cohort, there was a recidivism rate of 44 per cent, meaning almost one in two came back into prison within two years of being released.
13. Today, after we introduced it, the recidivism rate, after several years of honing our skills in this and working with private sector partners, churches and other religious institutions, and other organisations, the two-year recidivism rate has gone down to 24 per cent for the 2017 release cohort. They undergo a wide variety of programmes and community-based programmes.
14. The second major part is when the inmates get released. The people who got them in trouble in the first place, the reason why they went to prison or are in prison, are the people waiting outside when they are coming out. So, we needed to give them the scaffolding. We needed to put people in who can help them in life – job coaching, placement services, job retention, counselling, handholding. A lot of help is needed. But it is in our interest because we are saving lives. Again, Prisons and the Ministry of Home Affairs come in and do a lot of work, but we cannot do what we are doing without the tremendous effort by people like you, and others who are working with us, to really move in this direction.
15. So, as I said earlier, the 2017 cohort, the recidivism rate is 24 per cent, but that is the two-year recidivism rate. If you look at the five-year recidivism rate, then it increases. So, we have to try to keep people out of trouble for five years. If they can keep a job and be out of trouble for five years, usually they are okay. So, the first two years are the most troublesome, and the next three years can be troublesome. We have sort of dealt with the first two years, and while we need to work harder to bring the 24 per cent down, it is one of the best in any comparable city or country in the world, but the five-year recidivism rate is a work in progress.
WORKING WITH THE COMMUNITY
16. We need families to come in, and we need the community to come in, to help ex-offenders stay on track to make their lives better for themselves.
17. The programme that you started – the Breakthrough Accelerator Training Programme – covers three sessions to help ex-offenders discover their passions, talents and strengths. First, it gives self-confidence, and gives a sense of ability that I can do these things. Second, it helps to develop a positive mindset. Third, very importantly, it provides them with mentorship.
18. One of the participants, Mohammad Isham Bin Jantan, is here with us today. He reminded me that I met him 20 years ago. I told him I really could not remember that I met him at Jamiyah, but I am very happy to see him.
19. Isham is currently working as a Grab Driver. He managed to break free from drug addiction, re-discovered his love for the arts and very bravely shared his experiences during your monthly talkshow, “Lawful Assembly”. I am told that he spoke before an audience of 90 people – which was no small thing – who appreciated his sincere and authentic sharing, and were motivated and encouraged by what the programme has done for him.
20. For me, the beauty of this is that he is standing up there, he is saying, “Guys, I am like any of you. If I can do it, you can do it.” That gives a great amount of encouragement to others to break free. It is a positive role model, and we all need positive role models.
21. Running all these programs, I can understand, is not a small task. It requires deep commitment and help. It is not just money, but something even more important – time, which is in very short supply in Singapore.
22. I also want to talk about Mr Jabez Koh, who is also here with us today. Jabez, some of you would know his story, as it was published in the Straits Times two years ago. He was caught trafficking heroin, and he was sentenced to many years in prison. By 2013, he was released. He decided – I will make a change; I will change my life. Today he is the founder of a transport company – Infinite Transports Private Limited. It is a logistics company and social enterprise which offers employment to ex-offenders.
23. I think we can agree, Isham and Jabez are real examples of turning “Sentences to Success”.
24. The rehabilitation and re-integration journey for ex-offenders is not easy. Every success counts. Every bit of help counts. In everything we can do to help them, you are helping to save not just their lives but their families’ lives. You are putting them on a different path. So, the support from the community and family is vital.
25. You, together with SPS and Yellow Ribbon Singapore – we all help to transform lives.
26. Beyond the numbers are real human stories, people. This morning I was at my constituency, distributing some stuff to kids from less privileged families for the holiday season. We asked them to tell us what they wanted as a present, and we try to get them and distribute it. I saw a mother as I was leaving, and it troubled me a lot. Thankfully, the numbers are small, but each case is a real case. She looked troubled, she had six children running around, so I said, “What is the issue? You look troubled.” She told me her husband had just been arrested last week. She and most people are not versed in the law and most people would not know what to do when somebody is arrested. So, I said: “What are you thinking of doing?”. She said she takes each day as it comes, she does not know what to do. I asked, “Are you working, how are you going to cope?” She had not thought about it yet.
27. These are real stories. For the husband, unfortunately, I don’t know if he is guilty or not, the law will have to take its course. But, we try and help the mother and we try to help the children. We need to break the cycle that sometimes develops. If she goes to work, the six children are going to be alone, and if they are not looked after, there is some risk that they may fall into a cycle too. So, we need to make sure that doesn’t happen. She has every good intention of making sure that her children get their education, counselling, and mentorship. So, this is where society has got to play a role. Help is available, but many people do not know how to access it. These are real things, and you are playing a very important role in one part of the cycle.
28. I commend you, and I commend the AOL Team. You know that this is serious community work, and you are making a big difference to people’s lives. Thank you very much.