Published: 25 September 2023
Mdm Shie Yong Lee, Commissioner of Prisons,
Ladies and gentlemen
1. A very good morning to all of you. Very happy to see you here today.
2. I would like to first give a warm welcome to all international participants with us today. I’m very happy to see so many of you joining us for the International Correctional Leadership Programme, or ICLP, for short.
3. ICLP is also privileged to have Asian and Pacific Conference of Correctional Administrators (APCCA) Rapporteurs, Emeritus Professor Neil Morgan AM and Ms Irene Morgan join us throughout this whole programme. Both of you hold a wealth of global experience in correction. And over the next five days, we are very honoured and privileged that you will be observing our sessions and sharing your knowledge and insights. Thank you to both of you.
4. This inaugural run of ICLP is specially designed to foster collaboration, share evidence-informed correctional practices, offenders’ rehabilitation and reintegration, as well as strengthen networks among correctional leaders across the Asia Pacific Region. This is something that has not been done before; and is a significant step in enhancing regional collaborations in the field of corrections. It is very important for us to learn from one another, and see how we can continuously improve. Besides presentations on e-correctional topics, you can also look forward to interactive discussions where you can share perspectives on your respective fields.
Value of Correctional Work
5. Correctional work often operates away from the public eye. But its importance cannot be underestimated – the work that you do as correctional officers is integral to helping offenders break out of the cycle of crime, and keeping our societies safe.
6. In the past, the role of correctional agencies was mostly focused on ensuring the safe and secure custody of offenders. This is a duty that remains essential today.
7. However, correctional agencies must evolve to serve a higher purpose – to rehabilitate inmates. Correctional officers play a role to equip inmates with the skills and support they need so that they can successfully reintegrate into society upon their release.
8. The journey of SPS serves as a remarkable example. SPS started out focused on the safe and secure incarceration of offenders. In the late 1990s, SPS realised that this was necessary but insufficient – reoffending rates were high, and officers were discouraged at work. SPS undertook a transformation, and today, SPS officers are also known as “Captain of Lives”. The officers do not just ensure the secure custody of inmates, but go beyond that, to be mentors, coaches, and role models to those under their charge. I have been in the Ministry of Home Affairs for about three years and I'm very inspired by our officers, who showcase attributes of “Captain of Lives” in whatever role they play.
9. Today, SPS adopts an evidence-based rehabilitation approach that starts from the inmate’s incarceration and continues even after release.
10. During incarceration, inmates will undergo psychology-based correctional programmes based on the Risk-Need-Responsivity Model. Depending on the risks factors and needs that inmates present with, they are placed in specific environments and undergo targeted interventions. This has resulted in a significant reduction in reoffending.
11. Inmates also undergo family programmes and skills training courses based on Desistance Theory.
12. These family programmes help to increase inmates’ knowledge, skills, and confidence in maintaining ties and building stronger relationships with their family members.
13. The skills training courses inmates undergo enable them to develop basic skills and competencies, which improve their chances of securing a job after their release. By helping these inmates achieve life stability and establish a positive social identity, they are less likely to commit crime again.
14. SPS also recognises that simply putting inmates through these programmes during incarceration is not enough to help them lead normal lives upon release. There is a need to scaffold the inmates’ journey back to society before their eventual release.
15. Hence, more inmates are being released into the community under supervision towards the tail-end of their sentences to facilitate their reintegration into society.
16. Today, 28% of SPS’s inmate population are currently on such community-based programmes, a much higher proportion than the 11% back in 2014. We are fortunate as we have community-based partners who support our supervisees, and run their own programmes.
17. SPS officers work with these supervisees in the community to ensure that they comply to supervision conditions and provide case management services to them, which include counselling, mediation, and making referrals.
18. With all these measures inside prison and in the community, recidivism rates in Singapore have fallen from 40% two decades ago to 20% today – evidence that the suite of measures put in place are working.
19. SPS is also doing more to provide community support to released inmates. It has recently started getting members of public with social service background and knowledge on board, to serve as Volunteer Case Officers, to further engage supervisees and monitor their reintegration process.
Effective Corrections as a Joint Effort Involving Partners and the Community
20. Effective corrections and reducing long-term reoffending require collaboration with various stakeholders, both locally and internationally, because building a safer society is a collective effort.
21. One example of what Singapore does to collaborate with the community is the Yellow Ribbon Project, or YRP for short. YRP was launched in 2004 to raise awareness about the importance of granting second chances to ex-offenders, as well as inspire community action to support their rehabilitation and reintegration.
22. YRP has been a huge success. There is an increasing number of employers in the community partnering with YRSG to hire ex-offenders. What started out as 1,400 employers in 2004 has increased more than 4 times to 6,500 as of June this year. We are very encouraged. We are doing our best to provide opportunities for our inmates, especially in terms of employment, and the community is reassured that government agencies, together with our partners are doing our best to help the inmates and their family.
23. And YRP has caught on in places beyond Singapore, being replicated in various forms in other countries. For example, the Czech Republic held their first Yellow Ribbon Prison Run in 2016.
24. We had ours yesterday. I think quite a number of you participated. I was there too, and I met some of you. Though it rained a bit, we had great fun. I want to thank you for joining the event. Your participation in the run is a symbol of our continued commitment to helping ex-offenders and their families.
25. Besides engaging local community and stakeholders, SPS also proactively engages correctional agencies beyond our borders, to exchange knowledge and experiences, and mutually strengthen our capabilities and processes.
26. SPS continues to be active in platforms like APCCA, and have learnt much from others.
27. For example, SPS studied Japan’s system of Volunteer Probation Officers when shaping their own Volunteer Case Officer scheme, which I mentioned earlier. In revamping our Close Quarters Restraint Techniques, SPS adopted best practices from a fellow APCCA member, Australia, to make it more intuitive and effective.
28. Recently, SPS also visited Northern Ireland to explore trauma stress studies and refine our programmes to cater to inmates who have undergone significant trauma in their past.
Leaders are Key
29. This spirit and culture of constant learning is a key trait for you as leaders in the field of corrections. You must cultivate a culture of continuous learning and collaboration and dedicate yourselves to sharing best practices and insights. This will also help in developing our collective capabilities.
30. And this encompasses the spirit of ICLP – the reason why we are gathered here today.
31. As you embark on your ICLP journey, I want to extend my warmest well-wishes to all participants. It is because of your encouraging support and presence here that ICMP is possible. You, being here is a testament to your commitment in leadership and advancing correction. Your passion for correctional work affirms our shared commitment to making a positive and meaningful impact on the lives of offenders, as well as the well-being of our society.
32. It is my hope that you will participate actively in the programme, exchange ideas and thoughts candidly, and inspire each other in your journey to advance correctional work.
33. I want to thank Emeritus Professor Neil Morgan AM and Irene Morgan for your support and involvement in ICLP. We are really honoured to have you with us for this event. I want to thank my colleagues from SPS, for putting this exciting program for you, and Commissioner for your good leadership and working very hard.
34. On that note, I'd like to wish each and every one of you an enriching and fruitful ICLP. Thank you.