Commissioner of Prisons, Mr Desmond Chin
Executive Director of the Association of Muslim Professionals, Mr Mohd Anuar Yusop
Distinguished Guests, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,
- As you know, the facts are quite grim – this is a problem that has haunted us for some time and we need to put a stop to it. Today, seven in 10 inmates in prisons have drug antecedents. Drug abuse is a complex issue that has affected all communities.
- While the numbers have gone down, from a high of 6,000 in the 1990s to roughly 3,000 in 2016, the Malay community is over-represented among drug abusers. And we know this because we have family members, friends or relatives, who are afflicted with this addiction.
- In 2017, more than one in two drug abusers arrested were Malays. The proportion of Malays among new drug abusers has also increased from 36 per cent in 2007 to 50 per cent in 2017. This has to stop.
- The Government and the Malay/Muslim community have come together to deal with this problem. National, community and individuals have to play their parts. Partners and volunteers have actively driven the Dadah Itu Haram campaign to spread the anti-drug message.
- For example, one of our partners, PERGAS, runs a religious programme for inmates and follows up with them in the aftercare. PERGAS also supports the Dadah Itu Haram campaign to spread the anti-drug message to the community.
- To date, over 250 eateries and 50 barbers have come on board this campaign. We also have motorcycle shop owners coming forward.
- I am very proud today that we have about 300 active volunteers who regularly come and support the team, and some of them are here today – please give them a round of applause.
- They go to eateries and mosques almost every week to give out stickers and car decals and remind people that drugs are harmful and brings harm to family members; to further the message and spread the word on the Dadah Itu Haram campaign.
- And this is very important. Such ground-up initiatives are very important because people understand the message better and find the message more credible when it comes from their family and friends.
- And so I salute fellow volunteers for doing this and for doing this regularly.
- But we need to do more. The Government has to step up and the community must come together to prevent offending and re-offending, and we need to lend them the support; to the offenders and their families.
- The Development and Reintegration Programme, or the DRP, which is run by the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), is a very good example of community effort.
The Development and Reintegration Programme
- Today, we are officially launching the DRP. This programme was jointly developed by the Singapore Prison Service and the AMP.
- The objective of this programme is to help inmates in their reintegration by providing continuity of care from prisons to the community, to help the inmates better reintegrate into society, and to prevent re-offending.
- The DRP was piloted in 2017 as a comprehensive casework programme. It is the first of its kind in through-care efforts, supporting both offenders and their families.
- And the care starts while the inmate is in prison and continues after, when they are released into the community. We gathered feedback from the participants and improved various components of the programme.
- There are three components under the DRP. First, Personal Development Programmes; Second, Family Support Programme; and third, Case Management Services.
Personal Development Programmes
- Personal Development Programmes are in-care programmes, or programmes that take place while the inmate is in prison, so as to equip inmates with life skills and knowledge to help in their reintegration. Topics include financial literacy, parenting and family management.
- We came up with this programme because we studied the stressors of inmates: what happened to them, what caused them stress, and what are the factors that led them to commit or recommit offences.
- And so we came up with this. Finances and family can cause issues, and also family management – a family crisis can drive people away, make people worried, and cause them to turn to bad company. And they relapse.
- So we looked at these stressors and we see what we can do to equip them with skills so that they can better resist the temptations, or at the very least know where to seek help, and not turn to their old friends that lead them to their old bad deeds.
- During my visit to prisons, I saw how the programme has played out and I am very happy with the response, not just from those leading the classes, but from the inmates themselves. I am very happy to see the value of this programme. I have interacted with many inmates, and what I’ve realised is how central a part the family plays in their lives, even when they are in prison.
- I remember one inmate was asked in the financial literacy class, “If you had extra money, what would you do?”. And he said, “I would like to take my mom to Hajj”.
- I think it shows how central a part the family plays in the life of an inmate. And another aspect is how central a part religion plays in our lives.
- And these are things that the programme seeks to play up more, to bring out the best in us. Just because you are in prison doesn’t make you a terrible person and everything about you is bad. Because there are some redeeming qualities and these are glimmers of hope that we see, the programme can bring out and tell us that in our core, we are all good people. And what this programme seeks to do is bring out the best in us, to make sure the good part outshines the bad part. And this good part fights the temptation. Family and religion are very central.
Family Support Programme
- This leads me to the next component – the Family Support Programme. Under this programme, families of inmates who are in need of support receive help from caseworkers, advice on financial planning, and on how to be economically independent.
- As you know, some inmates are the sole breadwinner of their family. When they are incarcerated, their family suffers. Families struggle to find support, how to pay for the monthly bills, how to take care of children on their own. They might need an extra pair of hands, they might need guidance, they might need to know which agencies they can turn to for help. And this is what the programme does, it looks at how we can better support the family.
- Drugs is not a victimless crime; we all know that. But when faced in the situation, it is not enough for us to just say “yes drugs is a bad crime”. Yes it’s bad, but what are we going to do about it? So, this is what the programmes seek to do, to give affected families the support so that the drug problem does not go on to affect the next generation.
Case Management Services
- Finally, with Case Management Services, inmates are managed by AMP Case Officers while they are in prison and for a year after they are released from prisons and emplaced into the community.
- These case officers work closely with offenders and their families to develop reintegration plans, and these cover employment plans and participation in pro-social activities to address their reintegration needs. Because we know, being released from prison doesn’t mean that all your problems are solved.
- There needs to be a plan – what jobs, how to get along with your employers, what are you going to do; and some marriages may also suffer as a result of the incarceration. And so, this is what this case management seeks to do. To repair frayed ties, to assess your employability, and to put into practice what you have learned in prisons. There are many good programmes in prison and halfway houses, but learning is one thing. When you are it at, and faced with the situation, this is what this programme is about. When rubber hits the road, what do you do, what kind of support do you need, who can you talk to, where can you turn to for help? And to put into practice what they have learned.
- The DRP has done well in supporting the community. Since the DRP commenced on 24 March 2017, a total of 185 inmates have benefitted from the Personal Development Programme.
- One such beneficiary of the programme is Ahmad (not his real name). When Ahmad divorced his wife in 2012, he was financially overwhelmed as he needed to raise his 6 children single-handedly. He had worked as a security supervisor and unfortunately he took ‘ice’ to stay alert to work longer hours.
- He was arrested and admitted to the Drug Rehabilitation Centre in January 2017. He was emplaced on a community-based programme in July 2017 and successfully completed it.
- In AMP’s case management for Ahmad, the focus was on his relapse prevention plan to ensure that he does not go back to drugs as a coping mechanism. The plan includes monthly counselling sessions with his case officers, engagement in meaningful recreational activities with his family and resisting association with his previous group of friends who lured him to drugs.
- Additionally, to ensure that his children’s educational needs are met, the case worker linked the family up with student care centres, tuition centres and a mosque for the religious education.
- The case worker also helped Ahmad in applying for monthly food ration assistance from the Grassroots and financial assistance from the Social Service Office (SSO).
- With support from the community, Ahmad is now more aware of his role as a father and is actively involved in his children’s socio-educational needs. His sense of commitment to his family will greatly value-add to his overall reintegration journey.
Appreciation for AMP
- While the foundations of rehabilitation start inside prisons, support from the community is the scaffold that allows sustainable support of ex-offenders beyond the prison walls.
- Community and family support are critical, but it is not easy work.
- When Minister Shanmugam and I first approached AMP to explore this community project, there was some reluctance. Even among some members of their own team, some people were not convinced by us, and some people felt that it was work best done by other people.
- AMP had no experience in aftercare work. Funding was a concern, staff support and skills were a concern.
- But AMP took up the challenge. They recruited case workers and conducted training for the case workers, with Prisons’ support and funding. And for the case workers, it was also a very difficult start because for some, it was their first time working in this area.
- You see at this point in time, AMP could have easily said no, citing no experience, no resource, manpower constraints; there were plenty of reasons to say no, and all valid reasons.
- There is a Malay proverb, “Hendak seribu daya, tak hendak, seribu dalih”. So they could have said all that, but they said yes. They worked internally with their Board Members, they took up the challenge and said, “this is an issue that we need to address”.
- So I think it is appropriate at this juncture to pay tribute to the many case workers, Diyanah, Shafiqah, and many of them whom I’ve followed and met, who have journeyed with you throughout this long and difficult journey.
- Shafiqah is one of AMP’s case workers. She was working with Ali (pseudonym) when he was released in August 2017, to address his reintegration needs.
- There were marital issues. Ali and his wife had to go for marital counselling to resolve potential conflicts that might occur during his adjustment after release.
- So what AMP did was to hold monthly support group sessions at their premises, as well as individual counselling sessions where Ali and his family could attend and meet other beneficiaries of the programme, so they could hear that they were not alone facing this problem, they could hear how others were coping, that there is hope and that there is that support network.
- As this was the first time Shafiqah worked directly with an inmate, she was of course apprehensive and was unsure what to expect. She was also concerned as she was about to meet a group of people of varied backgrounds and profiles.
- However, having gone through the workshops and individual counselling sessions, she realised that she had learnt from the inmates as well. She derived a sense of satisfaction from being able to help the inmates, ex-offenders and their families.
- And most important of all, she drew a lot of satisfaction from witnessing first-hand the positive changes in ex-offenders and their families. Shafiqah hopes she can continue to provide guidance as well as assurance.
- So why did AMP, and Shafiqah and many other case workers – dedicated people like Khamid – and many others, continue to embark on this journey? As I said, there were many reasons for them to say no. It was not within their scope, they have no resource, many reasons.
- They did it because they believe. They believe that they can make a difference in the inmates’ lives, and in their families’ lives, and that they can change things. They plunged into unfamiliar and uncharted waters, because they know there is work to be done. And thinking on their part is this, if not me, then who will? If not them, who will take on the responsibility.
- The answer could have been very easy. Let somebody else do it. But that’s not the answer that we got from AMP and for that, I am very thankful and I appreciate the support from people, from the Board, and many others.
- I am also very grateful for Prisons, as well as MHA, for the strong support in this programme. Being the first throughcare programme of its kind, it took a lot, and there are some things we need to work out and some areas we need to improve, but whatever the challenges that we face. The results here speak for themselves.
- The fact that we have made lives better, and the children are here to see for themselves that there are people with them, supporting them, the spouses are here. I think it’s a clear sign that we are on the right direction.
- And I have witnessed first-hand the passion of our AMP case workers when I joined case workers on learning journeys to visit Hindu temples and churches to see what they do and what we can incorporate, and when I joined their house visits at Yishun and various places. I witnessed first-hand the case workers’ dedication, their thirst for knowledge, and their desire to want to push the boundaries and see what else we can do, whether there is funding or not.
- This human connection and dedication is important. This is what the inmates and their families need. They need champions, they need guardians, they need people to tell them that we are here for them. We’ve got their back, and we’ll get them back on their feet.
- That’s what they need. And if it is not us, who can do that job?
- The programme would not have been successful without all of us coming together.
- And so on this note I would like to call upon all Malay/Muslim organisations (MMOs) here to take a leaf from AMP’s admirable courage and effort in this. There is still much work to be done, and I hope you will come forward to provide support and help.
- We will be reaching out to various MMOs to see what we can do, and I hope we will get a response just like AMP’s.
- For individuals here today, there are also things you can do. You can join us as Befrienders, religious teachers or even as individuals to at least advocate the anti-drug message as part of the Dadah Itu Haram campaign.
- For the ex-offenders, support is invaluable as the journey is going to be difficult, but we will be with you. You will never have to walk alone on this journey of reintegration and rehabilitation.
- Walk on, walk on. With hope in your heart, you will never walk alone. We will be there for you. Walk with us.
- Thank you.