Published: 18 July 2022
Assoc Prof Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of National Development,
Mdm Shie Yong Lee, Commissioner of Prisons,
Mr Phillip Tan, Chairman of Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG),
CARE Network Members and Partners,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Colleagues and Friends.
1. Thank you for inviting me to this year’s CARE Network Summit, finally held in-person after a two-year break. I think that alone deserves another round of applause. We’re all very happy to have this chance to connect face-to-face, to talk about something we all believe is right for our society, which we believe is important for so many families.
2. I also wish to welcome all our like-minded partners and thank you for your commitment to supporting inmates, ex-offenders, and their families, through sharing best practices, learning from one another, and exploring new approaches.
3. In particular, I would like to extend a special welcome to our new participants. They include corporate partners, social enterprises, students, and volunteers – many of whom are themselves ex-offenders, helping others to turn over a new leaf. Thank you for joining us, and for being part of this very meaningful cause.
The Next Bound – Bringing Down Five-Year Recidivism Rate
4. The past few years have not been easy, with the pandemic. It is why we are especially grateful to CARE Network members for helping inmates and ex-offenders navigate their rehabilitation and reintegration journey through the challenges posed by the pandemic.
5. Your tireless efforts have produced clear results. The two-year recidivism rate is one indicator which we track very closely. And for the 2019 release cohort, which is the most recent release cohort, the two-year recidivism rate is 20%; and it is the lowest in 30 years or three decades.
6. Whilst our two-year recidivism rate has steadily declined – something to be celebrated – the five-year recidivism rate has not seen as much progress. Our five-year recidivism rate for the 2016 release cohort is 41%. When you look at it with a five-year timeframe, about 4 in 10 ex-offenders return to prison. This may be lower than say in New Zealand or Australia, which are both very well-regarded for their rehabilitation efforts. It is nonetheless, from our point of view, a concern that deserves greater attention.
The Significance of Lowering the Five-Year Recidivism Rate
7. It is why the Home Team is shifting our focus, not to do less but to do more. And how do we achieve this? Shift away from just looking at the two-year recidivism rate, to looking at the five-year recidivism rate – something to challenge ourselves to do better for ex-offenders and their families, as a society. I should emphasise that this is not a matter of changing KPIs for its own sake. The purpose of this shift in focus is to emphasise the need to look beyond the immediate post-release rehabilitation of former inmates, to secure their longer-term reintegration journey. This requires significant re-thinking on our approaches and our new capabilities. Success is not guaranteed, but any improvement will still be felt by the individuals and their families, and by extension, the communities and society-at-large.
8. Let me outline our key challenges in seeking to break new ground.
9. Our current programmes help inmates correct their offending behaviour, engage with their families better, and prepare them for the workplace. In the community, we link ex-offenders with partner organisations that can help them overcome the social, emotional, or financial challenges they may face after their release.
10. All these efforts focus on putting ex-offenders on a stable footing to start on their rehabilitation and reintegration journey. The improvements in the two-year recidivism rate show that our approach has been successful in giving them a good start.
11. However, we also know that a good start is not good enough. To truly benefit their families and society, we need to help ex-offenders reach further in their rehabilitation and reintegration journey.
12. These include sustaining their motivation to remain crime-free, maintaining pro-social networks, remaining gainfully employed, and sustaining healthy family relationships.
13. After the initial progress, many former inmates will also face setbacks and disappointments, as we all do in life. These are things that we ourselves experience, and we all know how difficult it is even without a checkered past, to find new ways to continue. Therefore, we should not underestimate the challenges that ex-offenders face in finding the motivation to course-correct and press on.
14. We should therefore work closely together to strengthen the eco-system of support available to ex-offenders and their families within the community, so as to extend and entrench their rehabilitation.
15. Today’s theme – ‘Igniting Connections, Empowering Lives’ – describes what we need to do to spark new connections among partners, deepen collaborations, and weave a tighter network of support. The tighter the net is, the fewer gaps there are to fall through.
CARE Network – Achievement and Progress
16. In fact, many CARE Network members here today have already started this process. Let me highlight a few of their initiatives.
17. SportSG, for example, introduced a football programme for the younger offenders. Under this programme, certified coaches from SportSG begin their engagement of the inmates in prison, and arrange for them to join SportSG’s weekly community football sessions after their release. Such throughcare collaborations that start in the prison and continue into the community provide the participants an opportunity to develop and maintain a pro-social network – after work, weekends, you’ve got some people to connect with, it’s important, and of course, while staying healthy and happy. 85 inmates have participated in the programme thus far, and more inmates will be scheduled to take part as they approach the tail-end of their sentence.
18. In another example, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) introduced the ‘Seniors Go Digital’ training initiative for elderly supervisees at Selarang Halfway House. The training enables them to use smartphone applications to access important digital services, such as Government and financial services. This improves their digital literacy and connectedness with society. More than 30 seniors have benefitted since the inaugural run in 2021, and IMDA will be scaling up this initiative to other Halfway Houses this year.
19. Our next example involves the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP). To support female inmates with children, AMP conducted the Micro Business Programme to help them develop home-based businesses after their release. 18 female inmates took part in the first run of the programme last year, and a further 20 took part in the second run that was completed this year. The next run of this programme will be held in 2023 and I think we can all appreciate the value of such a programme. It’s hard to stay in work if you have many commitments, but micro businesses and home-based businesses can provide opportunities to such individuals.
20. In addition to supporting ex-offenders directly, CARE Network partners have also supported families impacted by incarceration. The CapitaLand-CARE Network Empowerment and Resilience programme started in March this year. Named “Camp Cacti”, this camp for children of incarcerated parents seeks to strengthen their emotional development and resilience. With support from the CapitaLand Hope Foundation, we expect more than 200 children to benefit over the next three years.
21. The CARE Network has also expanded its collaborations more widely. For example, last year, the Industrial & Services Co-operative Society Ltd. (ISCOS), collaborated with the Yellow Ribbon Fund to support initiatives from community groups such as CANVAS Art’s ‘Digital Art Training & Routes Art Exhibition’ and Break the Cycle Singapore’s ‘Countdown 202.2km Challenge’, to mark the year 2022.
22. These community-led initiatives empower ex-offenders to break the cycle of re-offending and build a sense of connectedness with the community. Importantly, they also provide a chance for many ex-offenders to “pay-it-forward” and help others on their own rehabilitation and reintegration journey. Again, we ourselves know, as we see ourselves as willing to help others, there is a sense of satisfaction and there is also a sense of empowerment that comes from such activities.
23. So, I urge more partners to expand and deepen collaborations with such community groups, to build a vibrant and sustainable pro-social community that will help to bring down the five-year recidivism rate.
Advancing the Capabilities of Partners
24. Given the potential impact of CARE Network partners, it is equally important to help them build the right skills.
25. Last year, two training courses were co-developed by the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) and the Singapore After-care Association to equip newer practitioners with foundational knowledge on aftercare.
(i) The first of these training courses on “Corrections and Aftercare Landscape” was attended by 50 practitioners, I’m sure apart from the knowledge gained, they also made friends and formed contacts that will be really helpful in the work that they do.
(ii) The second programme was on "Offender Rehabilitation Approaches", which was attended by 32 practitioners from aftercare organisations trying to understand, look beyond the horizon – What is the research telling us, what are some of the newer programmes that have seen good results, and share more widely the lessons learnt to improve the effectiveness of the programmes.
26. This year, SPS will be extending training opportunities to more aftercare volunteers, under the Development Framework for Offender Rehabilitation Personnel.
27. We will expand training access to more volunteers and practitioners through a variety of learning platforms, such as webinars.
28. The CARE Network will launch a resource repository for the aftercare sector, for partners to share research studies, presentation materials and guides. The repository will be launched later this year.
29. In the same spirit of sharing and collaboration, CARE Network will also be organising a series of Learning Journeys and Community of Practice Collaborative Platforms this year, to allow partners to share knowledge and best practices.
30. I encourage partners to step forward to share your expertise and experiences through these initiatives.
SANA’s 50th Anniversary
31. One organisation whose expertise and experience has been invaluable to our cause is the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA).
32. SANA is celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. SANA is a really remarkable organisation, and each time we have international meetings, or when we go abroad to talk about the work we do in Singapore, SANA’s efforts over the years always get very high recognition. And the reason is because over five decades, SANA has been one of our key partners in the fight against drug abuse. They have been a key transformative player in the aftercare landscape, helping individuals break the cycle of addiction.
33. Let me give you an example of one of the many individuals that SANA’s work has touched. Her name is Syamlia.
34. Syamlia unfortunately began abusing drugs in her 20s. The law eventually caught up with her and she was detained for one year at the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC). At the time, Syamlia was already married, and a mother of three school-going children. Obviously, the impact to family was very considerable, and she felt a deep sense of disappointment in herself for having let her family down, and putting them in this very difficult situation.
35. Whilst in the DRC, Syamlia resolved to change for the better. She was determined to turn her life around so she could be there for her children.
36. However, Syamlia knew that the road to recovery would not be easy. She had probably seen other ex-offenders commit to drugs again even after they have been rehabilitated. So, she knew from a very early stage that she couldn’t go in alone, and she would need help.
37. Upon her release, Syamlia was referred to SANA, where she was assigned a caseworker to support her on her recovery journey. The caseworker helped her rebuild her self-confidence and motivated her on her journey. The caseworker also worked closely with other partners, such as YRSG’s career coaches and social workers in the community, to meet the practical needs of Syamlia and her family.
38. Today, Syamlia is holding on to a stable job as an administrative executive, and was even promoted. Syamlia deserves a round of applause together with her caseworkers. Her family is on to a different path, and her children can look forward to something very different.
39. In fact, inspired by the help that she has received, Syamlia decided to “pay-it-forward” and help others on their own journey. Today, Syamlia volunteers with SANA as a Peer Leader and serves as a role model and mentor to at-risk youths.
40. Syamlia’s story reminds us that an ex-offender’s rehabilitation and reintegration journey is often filled with ups and downs. However, with the right support – from a counsellor, mentor, befriender, caseworker, or friend – they can succeed.
41. Having all of you here today shows that ex-offenders do not journey alone.
42. So, let us build our connections, strengthen them, and empower each other, so that we may in turn empower the inmates, ex-offenders, and families we all serve together.
43. I wish you a very fruitful summit. Thank you.