Published: 19 December 2021
1. Good evening, everyone. I am honoured to be able to join you today to flag off the virtual Countdown 202.2km Challenge, organised by Break the Cycle SG, or BTC for short.
2. Over the next week, 40 participants will aim to cycle a gruelling 202.2km in groups of five, to usher in 2022. I must commend all of you. It is not an easy task, but I am very inspired by all of you in wanting to show your support for the mission of breaking the cycle of recidivism. So, this challenge makes it more meaningful. I want to congratulate all of you. I wish all the participants the very best as they strive to meet this remarkable goal!
3. I would also like to acknowledge all the volunteers who are working hard behind the scenes to make this event possible. The volunteers have been organising weekly training sessions to prepare the participants for the final Challenge. I also extend my gratitude to the sponsors and partners for their strong support for this event.
Importance of Community Support in Preventing Recidivism
4. I understand that about 20 per cent of the participants and volunteers for the Challenge are ex-offenders. This is very encouraging and heartening. Community partners like BTC play a very crucial role in supporting ex-offenders in their rehabilitation journey, and giving them the chance to pay it forward.
5. We have done well to keep the two-year recidivism rate low and stable. The two-year recidivism rate measures the percentage of inmates who return to prison within two years of being released into the community. In 2000, the recidivism rate was 40 per cent. The latest figure for offenders released in 2018 is 22.1 per cent. This is very good progress, and we want to do more.
6. However, there are still one in five ex-offenders who go back to a life of crime within the two-year period after release. If we look at the five-year period after release, two in five ex-offenders reoffend and go back to prison. There is more that we can do.
7. In the community, ex-offenders face a multitude of stressors and challenges, especially in the immediate few years after release. The temptation to lapse back into a life of offending can seem appealing if an ex-offender does not have a strong network of support and meaningful activities to engage him or her.
8. I would like to commend BTC for doing your part to plug this gap in the community. BTC’s mission is to befriend and support ex-offenders in achieving positive life goals. Since its founding just last year, BTC has organised projects such as a cycling fundraising event and a virtual talk series to raise awareness of the challenges faced by ex-offenders. These also serve as platforms for those living in Singapore to show acceptance towards ex-offenders. BTC’s regular cycling regime and cycling events like this Challenge also provide opportunities for ex-offenders to hone their cycling skills and grow their personal resilience, while also building pro-social friendships with fellow cycling enthusiasts. Such friendships can go a long way in helping ex-offenders feel like they belong in the community, and shed the identity of a ‘criminal’.
9. I hope that many others will be inspired by BTC and will come alongside ex-offenders in their rehabilitation journey. When we make the effort to welcome ex-offenders into our social circles, our workplaces, and our lives, we are each playing our part in making Singapore a more inclusive and compassionate society.
Encouraging Ex-Offenders to Volunteer
10. I also want to encourage the ex-offenders in the BTC community to persevere through the tough transition period and to continue to find meaningful ways to occupy your time and energy. Although the transition period is very tough, I have met many ex-offenders who shared that though it is not easy, the support is very, very important. So, I hope the BTC community will persevere and also help one another occupy your time and energy in a meaningful manner.
11. One such way is to pay it forward. Those who have gone through that difficult transition after release would know first-hand the struggles that ex-offenders face. You have been in their shoes. By sharing your own story and being there for another ex-offender, you can create a ripple of positive change for this community.
12. One role model in paying it forward is Jeremy Tan. Jeremy is a former drug addict who was crippled by addiction for over 20 years. With the support of The Hiding Place, a halfway house, Jeremy has remained clean since 2010. Now, Jeremy is a full-time staff at The Hiding Place, and he participates actively in BTC events. Jeremy has been helping out at the weekly training rides, and shares his cycling knowledge with others in the group. He has also been introducing residents of The Hiding Place to the sport. In this week’s Challenge, Jeremy will be playing the role of a co-sweeper for his group, ensuring that no one gets left behind while on the route. This is symbolic of the role that ex-offenders can play for others who are struggling to break the cycle of recidivism. On the road of life, look out for one another. Ensure no one gets left behind. This is important. I want to applaud Jeremy for doing this. I hope more like Jeremy will step forward to help others to go through this journey.
13. When I saw some of your posts on social media about your cycling activities, I felt very happy. I was working in the Ministry of Transport since 2012, and up till this year, I still help with developing the cycling landscape and infrastructure in Singapore. Seeing more and more people taking up cycling and engaging in cycling activities as part of the reintegration, rehabilitation journey, as well as getting people together, not only to give Beyond Second Chances, but to also provide and develop prosocial groups for others to benefit from, makes me feel happy. I am very happy to be able to join you this evening. Your stories, your efforts and what you do, are inspiring. I would like to congratulate you. You have done very well. Keep up this effort. We appreciate it, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
14. In closing, allow me to, once again, wish you all the best for the Challenge. I look forward to hearing stories of your determination and success in overcoming the great distance. Through your stories, I can feel your resilience, your perseverance, your joy, and your determination. I also wish BTC a very happy first birthday and a smooth running of this inaugural community ride event. As we go into 2022, may we continue to work together and press on in our goal to break the cycle of recidivism.
15. I would like to wish each and every one of you Merry Christmas and a happy new year. Thank you.