Official Launch of Rise Above Halfway House – Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 04 July 2023

Ms Hazlina Abdul Halim, President, PPIS

Ms Tuminah Sapawi, CEO, PPIS

Commissioner of Prisons Yong Lee

Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning.

1. Let me share two thoughts with you. 

2. First, where does a Halfway House like this fit within the overall scheme of society, and the corrections system? It's something that I have mentioned many times. In the past, traditionally we look at Prisons, corrections, you do something wrong, it's your fault. And you are picked up, charged. You go to prison, you come out. You could be a mother, you could be a father, you could be a young person. You’ve done wrong, and the law treats everyone equally. 

3. When you come out, often, I don't think we should deny individual responsibility for what has happened. I don't think we should go so far as to say it's everybody else's fault, except that of the individual. I think there is individual responsibility, but we can also see that, without family support or without self-confidence and without the ability to overcome the struggles in life, the person is likely to get back into the same problems. And we can take the view that well, you know, if you can't that is your problem. or we can say to what extent can we be there and help you without reducing or denying individual responsibility. 

4. I think if you look at it like that, I usually divide this into three phases. Before you come into prison, we usually can identify those who are going to end up in the prisons. From teenage years, from your schooling records, from whether you continue to attend school, from your background and family support. Second, the period when you are in prisons. And third, the period when you are out of prisons. 

5. If you look at this as one continuum, actually the state can move in early and partner and try and prevent you from getting into prisons in the first place. Often you can identify people with certain backgrounds without typecasting or classification. You can say for these characteristics, we need to intervene. Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social and Family Services, Ministry of Home Affairs too, because it’s in our interest, otherwise they end up being in prison, which overall is not good for them and not good for the state. So, at that stage, we try and help, so you reduce the number of people who then get into trouble. At that stage, they are mostly young ones. 

6. And then prisons. Prisons, traditionally, you lock people up and, they serve their time and they come out. Or you can look at prisons as a time when the state has an opportunity to work with them. Also, to help them get better lives – I think it was a brilliant tagline by Prisons, to call Prisons officers Captains of Lives. 

7. We are not people who lock others up. During that period, we have an opportunity to really steer the lives of the people inside prisons and make a better life for them. So that is extremely important. And that mindset almost make prisons officers look at themselves as quasi-social workers. 

8. So in prisons, the inmates get education where they need education, depending on their age; they get skills training, depending on what level they are at; and also psychological and other kinds of social support, together with an active encouragement to religious groups to go in there and work with the people in prisons – because that usually helps them build their own sense of self, and also many other secular interventions. 

9. Third, when they come out. When they come out, often the people waiting at the prison gates are the people who got them into trouble in the first place. So, if you leave them with no support, then they will go back to their gangs, they will go back to their social support system. 

10. Human beings need social support. So, if there is no family support and there is no proper social support, they will go back and seek support from their own gangs, other people who led them down this path. 

11. So, in that sense, I think society continues to have responsibility to try and give them a better life when they come out. 

12. If you look at it, we are intervening very intensively before they get into trouble. A whole Prisons approach. 

13. Now – I think it has been more than 10 years – it has changed in terms of what happens when they are inside. Even though I say so myself, and I've been pushing Prisons to document it and make it into academic studies – I think books have now been published. Their methods and what they do with inmates, is probably among the most advanced in the world. I think our size allows us to do it. Our ability to focus on these kinds of issues allows us to do it. 

14. It's often not understood, even by people in the social sector. It is because our primary message – we are tough on drugs and support the death penalty. And all the other things that we do is usually not highlighted. Actually, that is the bigger part of what we do. We are tough. I make no qualms about it. And I think it's necessary and above all, it allows society to be crime-free relatively, substantially. 

15. But a huge amount of work is being done in prisons which I think has not been sufficiently put out in public. People don’t understand just how much is being done. And then, post-prisons, and I would consider this as halfway between prisons and post-prisons – it’s another example. 

16. This is one halfway house, there are many of such halfway houses, and it is a very typical Singaporean example. It’s neither completely state-run, because if it’s state-run, the volunteerism, the passion, the ability to give time will be run by civil servants. It will be run well, knowing Singapore. But there is an added dimension where people come, volunteer their time and give their own effort. At the same time, we have not left it entirely to the private sector as other countries do. So either state-run or private sector, which is what most countries do. Then you would have to raise the money by yourself. You would have to do everything by yourself. And there is a limit to how much of this can be done by society.

17. So here, the Government sets some benchmarks. We lend financial support. We give other kinds of material support. And of course, the overall framework support, because the organisation knows if there is something, I can always go back to MHA. I have been a very strong supporter of this entire approach, which is in parallel to the correction system and system within prisons. This is extremely important. 

18. If people can come into the halfway house, they get good role models, they get a sense of confidence, they get a sense of self-worth.  I think they are better able not to go and reoffend, and better able to focus on things that really matter – family, fulfilling their own potential. So that’s what this is about.

19. So, the work that all of you all are involved in, is really making other people’s lives much much much better. So, it’s very noble work, and I thank you for it, and MHA is an extremely strong supporter and partner for this, and you will always have our support.

20. I think you’ve had about 46 offenders come through your doors since September 2022, and every single one in 2022 has been successfully matched with a job or vocational training within three months of coming in.

21. Thank you very much, very happy to be here, and we will continue to support you.