Mobilising the Community to Support Offenders, Ex-offenders and their Families – Speech by Assoc Prof Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs & Ministry of National Development

Published: 27 October 2022

1.   A very good morning.

2.   I am Faishal, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of National Development, in Singapore. I am part of the Singapore Government, and I am one of the Political Office Holders. I look at the areas of preventing offending and re-offending, where I work closely with Commissioner of Prisons Ms Shie Yong Lee, the Singapore Prison Service (SPS) as well as Mr Matthew Wee, CEO of Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG), and my colleagues from YRSG, in the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders and ex-offenders.

3.   The scope of my presentation is as follows:

(a)   I will share on Singapore’s rehabilitation system.

(b)   Following that, I will share more on some of the work that we do, as well as some of the culturally-nuanced programmes that we have, given that Singapore is a multi-racial and multi-religious society.

(c)   Also, when we were going around the last few days, we noticed that there has been a significant interest from participants, who want to know more about YRSG. So, I’ll be covering some aspects of what we do at YRSG.

4.   To give a broad overview, MHA is made up of 10 departments, and SPS and YRSG are among them. SPS has about 2,300 staff, comprising uniformed officers and civilian officers. There are about 11,000 offenders in SPS’s custody. The majority are penal and drug rehabilitation centre offenders.

Our Rehabilitation Approach

5.   Now, let me share with you about our rehabilitation approach.

6.   We adopt a throughcare approach in rehabilitating offenders. This means that there are continuous and coordinated efforts to address the risks and needs of offenders inside prison, which are followed through in the community upon their release.

7.   During the incare phase, SPS provides psychology-based correctional programmes for offenders to help them develop pro-social attitudes. This works on the offenders’ motivation, attitudes and thinking, and provides structured learning and application of pro-social skills.

8.   Together with YRSG, we provide skills training, work and education programmes for offenders, so that they can increase their economic capital down the road.

9.   We also build upon their social capital as it is key to sustaining desistance. 

10.   In this aspect, SPS works with various community partners to deliver family-based programmes which aim to strengthen familial bonds with their loved ones, as well as religious programmes to support offenders emotionally and spiritually.

11.   We believe that the Government’s efforts alone, in rehabilitating offenders and providing support to their children and families, will not be enough. 

12.   We recognise that strong community support is also needed, at each stage of the offender’s rehabilitation journey, to help the offenders rehabilitate successfully and to help build strong family units. Essentially, the Government cannot do this alone.

13.   As shared earlier, we want to ensure that we help to build not only the social capital of offenders and ex-offenders, but also their economic capital, which we think is important in their rehabilitation and reintegration journey.

14.   We do this by providing them with skills training and work opportunities so that they will be able to secure a stable employment upon release. Having stable employment is a key protective factor that helps ex-offenders stay crime-free.

15.   SPS works very closely with YRSG in this area. 

16.   YRSG collaborates with more than 7,000 partners across private, public and people sectors to provide skills training and employment assistance for offenders and ex-offenders. YRSG also engages the community through the Yellow Ribbon Project. 

17.   YRSG partners more than 6,000 employers, offering more than 1,000 job vacancies each month to releasing offenders. Currently, there are eight job vacancies available for every inmate who requires employment assistance. 

18.   Besides finding them a job, YRSG also provides career retention support, where career coaches are deployed to support ex-offenders at work for up to 12 months after release. The coaches act as an important bridge between ex-offenders and their employers to better understand each other’s perspective and support ex-offenders’ transition and gainful employment. We want to support them beyond just giving them a job. We work closely with the employers, so that the employers better understand the needs of the ex-offenders, so that the ex-offenders will have a more sustainable and meaningful journey in their reintegration. 

19.   Many from the community have joined SPS and YRSG on our journey towards a society without re-offending.

20.   This strong and growing partnership with a healthy cross-section of the community is critical for the successful rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders, and we continue to expand such connections.

21.   To complement SPS’s efforts in rehabilitating inmates, we partner about 1,000 volunteers from 40 organisations, to provide a range of rehabilitative programmes and activities for offenders. These include support groups, mentoring programmes, interest-based activities, and personal development programmes. So, it is a wide range.

22.   SPS also partners with 1,400 volunteers from 12 religious organisations to provide religious programmes and services, and address the spiritual and emotional needs of offenders. These programmes also incorporate moral development and offer emotional support for inmates to cope with life experiences, and to help them better prepare for their release.

23.   Additionally, SPS partners with over 500 individuals and eight organisations to provide befrienders services to offenders. 

24.   We recognise that incarceration not only affects the individual, but also their families. Thus, SPS works very closely with social service agencies and community partners to see how we can better support offenders, ex-offenders and their families – not only when the offenders are in prison, but even when the offenders are released. We continue such engagement, so that the families continue to have that necessary stability in their lives so that the offenders can have a piece of mind, which will help them in having a smoother rehabilitation and reintegration journey. 

25.   Another way we mobilise the community is through the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-offenders (CARE) Network. In the year 2000, the CARE Network was formed. It is an alliance of government and non-government agencies to mobilise the community, coordinate aftercare efforts, and enhance service delivery for ex-offenders and their families. The network is made up of nine core members.

26.   Following this, in 2004, the Yellow Ribbon Project and Yellow Ribbon Fund were launched.

27.   The Yellow Ribbon Project was launched by the former President of Singapore, the late Mr S.R. Nathan. Its purpose is to generate awareness of the difficulties ex-offenders face after release, encourage acceptance of their return to society, and inspire public action to support their reintegration.

28.   The Yellow Ribbon Project is based on the metaphorical approach that every offender encounters two prisons – the first being the physical prison during incarceration, and the second is a ‘social and psychological prison’ in the community. This key to help unlock the second prison is now held by the community, through their acceptance and support. The community plays an important part in the creation of an inclusive social environment where ex-offenders, who display a strong desire to change, can find the hope to start life afresh and become contributing members of society.  

29.   The Yellow Ribbon Fund, a spin-off from the Yellow Ribbon Project, was established in 2004. The Yellow Ribbon Fund was the first national charitable fund devoted entirely for the ex-offenders and their families. Its key focal areas are in the provision of emergency financial assistance, funding residential support programmes, administering programmes in education and training, and family support programmes. The Yellow Ribbon Fund has been very forthcoming in helping ex-offenders and their families, so this helps ex-offenders to focus on their rehabilitation and reintegration journey.

30.   Every year, to raise the awareness on the Yellow Ribbon Project, SPS and YRSG organise a slew of activities throughout the year.

31.   Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued with these efforts and activities.

32.   And to best share what we did, we have prepared a short video for you on the events that were organised under the Yellow Ribbon Project umbrella in 2021.

33.   During the pandemic, our offenders and ex-offenders also contributed and played their part in Singapore’s efforts to battle the pandemic. Some of our offenders who were working in the prison bakery baked cookies for our frontliners. They came together and baked about 6,000 packs of cookies for the frontliners.

34.   Additionally, care packs for Yellow Brick Road beneficiaries as well as senior citizens living alone were packed by offenders residing at a halfway house, and delivered by a logistics company operated by an ex-offender. 

35.   We were very pleased that many of our offenders and ex-offenders rolled up their sleeves and did their part, no matter big or small, to battle the pandemic.

36.   From what I have shared, you can see that we need everyone to play a part, and we need multiple initiatives and efforts as outcomes are multi-factorial and not based on a sole effort or initiative.

37.   We have seen that the two-year recidivism rate has remained low and stable over the past years. 

38.   The two-year recidivism rate is 20% for the 2019 release cohort.

Culturally-Nuanced Programmes

39.   The next part of the presentation is on the importance of culturally-nuanced programmes. As shared earlier, Singapore is a multi-racial and multi-religious society.

40.   As such, there is a need to design culturally-nuanced programmes to better prevent offending and re-offending in a more targeted manner for the different communities. And to do this, the Government needs to work with various community partners to co-develop these programmes. 

41.   This is in addition to the various secular programmes already provided by SPS.

42.   In designing culturally-nuanced programmes, the Government did not only look at programmes for offenders who are serving their time in prison and providing support to offenders and ex-offenders in the aftercare phase, but also focused efforts in engaging the communities upstream, as we want to prevent them from coming into the system.

(a)   Upstream efforts mainly focus on spreading the anti-drug message, and working and educating families on the harmful effects of drugs and also the importance of living a healthy pro-social lifestyle.

(b)   For incare efforts, it is mainly about providing structured and regular religious counselling services and programmes, and providing support to affected families.

(c)   Aftercare efforts look at providing the offenders and ex-offenders with case management support and reintegration programmes to build upon their pro-social networks.

43.   Firstly, let’s look at some of our upstream efforts.

44.   In addition to working with SPS and YRSG, we also work with the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) to prevent drug abuse, and this is done through CNB’s Preventive Drug Education and Engagement Strategy.

45.   The strategy focuses on establishing a virtuous cycle of DrugFreeSG Advocacy - to harness active citizenry and encourage shared responsibility in local communities. 

46.   We aim to imbue Singaporeans with a drug-free culture that is firmly rooted and reinforced in our society.

47.   So, we co-developed programmes, which involve engagement by organisations and volunteers from the different communities. 

48.   One of the culturally-nuanced upstream efforts we have initiated is the “Dadah Itu Haram” (DIH) Campaign, which is the Malay term for “Drugs are Forbidden”.

49.   This culturally-nuanced programme makes it easier to capture the attention of the Malay community, because the slogan is in Malay and uses the term “Haram”. “Haram” means “forbidden”, and is commonly used in Islam and the Malay community.

50.   The campaign, which started in 2017, has reached more than 100,000 members of the Malay/Muslim community, as well as places all over, including barbershops, eateries, jamming studios, and motor vehicle workshops. And we are fortunate that all 71 mosques in Singapore are onboard this campaign. We have also organised more than 140 DIH events. I too, have personally been going down to the ground, to rally support.

51.   And when I go down to the ground to engage the community, many share with me that we are doing the right thing, and encourage us to do more so that more will be educated on the harms of drug abuse.

52.   For the Indian community, we have the “Bothaiporulai Ethirthu Nirpom“ (BEN) campaign, or “We stand United Against Drugs” campaign. We also work together with the community and look at how we can support them.

53.   This campaign was launched in September 2019 as a follow-up to the DIH Campaign.

54.   It takes a similar approach, to reach out to the Indian community to raise awareness on drug prevention and mobilise the Indian community’s support for the anti-drug cause. 

55.   The campaign has received strong support from the Indian community organisations, with many who have come forward to offer their network and platforms to help amplify the anti-drug message. 

56.   Upstream efforts are very powerful, because we help to shape the minds of people towards positive lifestyle choices. That is key, and we start young. For the preventive drug education efforts by CNB, we start as early as pre-school.

57.   Next, let us move on to the incare and aftercare efforts.

58.   Earlier I shared that SPS partners 1,400 volunteers from 12 religious organisations to provide religious programmes and services, and address the spiritual and emotional needs of inmates. 

59.   In addition to providing a strong religious foundation, which can be important for individuals to steer away from a life of crime, they also provide pro-social support to offenders.

60.   For the Malay/Muslim community, one such organisation is FITRAH (Family and Inmates ThRoughcare Assistance Haven). It was set up by Muis (the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore), in partnership with MHA and SPS.

61.   FITRAH has developed a values-centric and structured in-care religious programme and delivers Friday sermons that are contextualised to the rehabilitation needs of Malay/Muslim inmates.

62.   FITRAH also helps to strengthen family relationships by recruiting and deploying volunteers to provide community befriending support to offenders and their families, and conducting regular engagement with offenders’ families.

63.   Let me share with you one last culturally-nuanced initiative – the Malay/Muslim Organisation (MMO) Rehabilitation Network.

64.   Singapore works very closely with various MMOs in preventing offending and re-offending. The MMOs have been valuable partners within the community in disseminating anti-drug messages, conducting rehabilitation programmes for offenders, and providing support to ex-offenders and their family.

65.   In 2021, we organised focus group discussions and townhall sharing sessions with the MMOs for feedback and ideas to improve the efforts in preventing offending and re-offending. During these sessions, the MMOs expressed their interest to form a rehabilitation network to strengthen their existing efforts and provide coordinated and holistic support to Malay/Muslim offenders, ex-offenders, and their families.

66.   As such, we decided to formalise the MMO Rehabilitation Network, consisting of 26 organisations and 11 M3 towns. These organisations are made up of government bodies as well as community organisations and partners. 

67.   Many of these community partners have been serving the Malay/Muslim community for many years.

68.   The network is young, but we have organised various events such as seminars, learning journeys and joint outreach events. Some of the organisations have also started to come together to collaborate and come up with programmes to support the offenders and their families.

69.   Such activities also allow for capability and capacity building of the network as a whole and as individual organisations via sharing of best practices, skills, and knowledge.

Government’s Longer-Term Efforts to Further Help Offenders and Ex-Offenders

70.   Before I end my presentation today, I would like to share with you the Government’s longer-term efforts in further helping our offenders and ex-offenders.

71.   While our two-year recidivism rate remains low and stable at around 20%, what we want to do is to see how we can tackle the longer-term five-year recidivism rate, which is higher at around 40%.

72.   To do that, we know it is something that is more challenging, given that the five-year recidivism rate is a measure of how well an ex-offender desists from crime, as compared to the two-year recidivism rate which is a measure of incare and short-term post-release efforts. Reducing the five-year recidivism rate needs a sustainable and more coordinated ecosystem of support.

73.   As such, it is vital that that we build a strong and sustainable ecosystem in the community to help ex-offenders desist and become contributing citizens. This requires strong support from community partners – such as employers, social service agencies, volunteers and more.

74.   We will focus on the following areas, in galvanising the community to promote desistance.

75.   Gainful employment allows ex-offenders to be financially independent and improve their overall quality of life. In this aspect, education and upskilling pathways will be expanded to increase offenders’ employability potential, and support systems strengthened to sustain long-term career development through upgrading opportunities and mentoring/coaching.

76.   SPS will continue to expand the use of community corrections, and develop an integrated and seamless aftercare ecosystem to support the transition stages of the offenders’ reintegration journey.

77.   Pro-social support is essential to help ex-offenders stay away from their old ways. We will adopt a throughcare family-centric rehabilitation approach to systematically involve families in inmates’ rehabilitation as well as to support them, and strengthen and sustain non-familial pro-social networks leveraging on reformed desistors and volunteers. 

78.   Community acceptance and support is key in influencing recidivism. Through the Yellow Ribbon Project and various community mobilisation initiatives, we hope to foster strong community acceptance of ex-offenders and an integrated network of support services in the people, private and public sectors to aid ex-offenders’ rehabilitation and reintegration

79.   Last but not least, we will continue to increase the number of community partners working with us. The government will also work with them to develop their capabilities, and upskill them through training, knowledge exchange, and sharing of best practices. We are very encouraged by the support we are getting from the community as well as the work of our colleagues at SPS, YRSG and CNB.


80.   In closing, we adopt an all hands-on deck approach to help prevent offending and reoffending, so that every Singaporean can achieve their potential. Every Singaporean and person in Singapore matters.

81.   I hope you have gained some insights from my sharing. As shared by our Commissioner of Prisons, this is something that is close to my heart. I have been very fortunate to not only be able to engage the community, but also the inmates, and this has helped me to better understand the needs, so that we can develop policies that will help them to rehabilitate and in their reintegration journey.

82.   Thank you very much.