Published: 22 April 2021
Commissioner of Prisons, Ms Shie Yong Lee,
CEO of Yellow Ribbon Singapore, Mr Matthew Wee,
Home Team Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning. Thank you for joining us at the Opening Ceremony of the Selarang Park Complex, or SPC.
Two years ago we opened the Selarang Halfway House. It was then the first Government-built and operated halfway house and part of the SPC. Now the SPC is fully operationalised.
Overview of Prisons’ Transformation
I would like to take a few minutes, and many of you would be aware, but I think it is important to reiterate how Prisons, both in terms of its physical footprint and its philosophy, has changed over the last 20 years.
A) Physical Facilities
If you go back 20 years in 2001, the prison complexes were spread out across Singapore. We had prisons in Sembawang, Queenstown, Kaki Bukit and Changi, housing different inmates. It was a decentralised set-up, where each prison had slightly different management techniques.
In the late 1990s, there was also a surge in our prison population, which then imposed a strain on our physical facilities and our resources.
MHA then decided to centralise all the prisons and decided that Changi Prison Complex (CPC) would be the place where everything was going to be centralised – this was in the late 1990s – with new integrated security systems, economies of scale, better programmes, skills training and employment opportunities. That’s on the hardware, very briefly.
B) Approach to Inmate Management
In 1999, then-DPM Wong Kan Seng also decided there had to be a transformation of the prisons in terms of how we manage our inmates. I would say that was very far-sighted, as you are talking about almost 20 years ago.
Prior to that, the focus had been on safety, security, in terms of custody of the inmates. That environment also created challenges in terms of recruiting prison officers as it was essentially guarding inmates in a somewhat, slightly tense environment.
Prisons then developed a new vision – the Captains of Lives. I think this phrase is one of the more inspired phrases in the Singapore public service. It really captures where you want to go and what you want to be. Securing the custody and securing discipline is important, but equally important is the experience and opportunity for changing the prisoners, so that when they go out, they become more responsible citizens and hopefully, they don’t come back to the prisons again – which is a common problem in correctional institutions all over the world. People keep coming back, not because of the correctional institutions, but because of their own surrounding circumstances and life experiences.
After centralising the physical facilities and transforming its approach, Prisons has seen a significant decrease in the two-year recidivism rate – 40 per cent, two out of every five inmates, for the 2000 release cohort; and in 2018, that figure had come down to 22 per cent. It is very substantial, it had made a substantial difference to many peoples’ lives. While our five year recidivism rates have improved, they still show a slightly different picture. That will be our next stretch target.
Focus on Aftercare and Community Corrections
Over the years, SPS has gone quite far in its rehab programs, and how they have been rolled out, such that today, we can say that SPS is a very enlightened correctional agency, in terms of how it approaches rehabilitation, and its strong focus on rehabilitation and reintegration back into society
(A) Community Based Programmes
In this context, I will speak about the Community Based Programmes (CBP). There are three different CBPs that I would like to highlight: (i) the Work Release Scheme, (ii) the Home Detention Scheme, and (iii) the Halfway House Scheme.
Inmates on CBP serve the tail end of their sentence in the community. That gives them time to accommodate themselves, reintegrate into society, while still under supervision, and with some conditions attached on their movement.
Last year, we saw a 42 per cent increase in the number of inmates undergoing rehabilitation in the community, compared with 2019 – so, just in one year. The completion rates for CBP remain very high. They were beyond 90 per cent. These are the statistics that matter, and these are positive developments. I am very heartened.
(B) Enhanced Drug Rehabilitation Regime
Let me now touch on our approach to the enhanced drug rehabilitation regime.
We distinguish pure drug abusers, from drug traffickers. That is a fairly recent development. We want to try and help drug abusers break their habits. We identify the drug abusers. As long as you have not done anything else, like trafficking or other drug-related offences – you are an abuser. We try and approach you as someone who needs more help, and we focus on your risk of relapse, severity of drug use, and we try to help you.
They get psychology-based correctional programmes, family-based programmes, skills training, and religious services and support where appropriate. Of course, we have to be sensitive about that, but where the request is made and where it is appropriate, it is provided. We cannot do this without the support of the large number of religious organisations that have come forward to help us and partner us in this journey. After that, there is community supervision, with employment assistance and case management. So a lot of handholding, during the post-release period.
Prisons and CNB recently conducted a study on the enhanced drug rehabilitation regime for first and second-time drug abusers, and the statistics are interesting. We found an 8 per cent decrease in the two-year recidivism rate from 36.9 per cent to 28.9 per cent. That is very significant – an 8 per cent decrease in the two-year rate after these programmes were put in. For those who underwent the enhanced regime, you can see a clear result.
The significant improvement in the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) recidivism rate is an example of the approach we take. There is no ideology. The only ideology is that we try to make people’s lives better, and hopefully they do not come back, for their own fulfilment of their potential. But how we achieve that is not based on ideology or preconceived notions, it is based on science, evidence and statistics – we measure.
Development of Selarang Park Complex (SPC)
(A) Infrastructure of SPC
Let me now touch on the development of Selarang Park Complex, the infrastructure. Because we wanted to take this approach, we decided that we needed an integrated facility that could serve the needs of different offenders, including those on CBP, as well as drug abusers.
You saw the video – it comprises a Halfway House, a DRC, a Work Release Centre, and a Community Supervision Centre. There are more vocational training facilities, more rooms for programmes, and these are more easily accessible for community partners, case workers and career coaches.
YRSG’s Employment Assistance Unit is co-located within SPC, so that they are able to better help ex-offenders and those on Community Based Programmes with employment-related issues. That’s frequent, as those of us who are involved in this work would know.
(B) Story of “Yvonne”
Let me now share with you a story about this lady “Yvonne”, which is not her real name, and how she has benefited from a CBP. She is 38 years old, and was detained in the DRC for a second time for drug consumption, and put on CBP after completing her rehabilitation.
She, like many people, was faced with temptations to take drugs. There were peer influences who were not positive. In fact, they were quite negative even while she was on CBP. But, the CBP helped her to remain motivated, determined to stay on the right path, with the support and guidance from her reintegration officer and case manager. Without them, I think the negative peer influences would have taken over. They provided the framework for her to turn to someone for help, and to talk to. Each time the temptation came, she managed to resist it.
Her career coach also played a very important role. She secured an administrative position at a delivery company in May last year. Since then, she has been given three salary increments because of her excellent work performance, and she was recently promoted. She is actually a very able person. Her employer found her efficient, dependable and positive. The fact that she was doing well in her work gave her the confidence and helped her realise that she can lead a positive and drug-free life.
Yvonne told us that CBP provided her with a gradual support system, and that was crucial in her reintegration. Now, even if we have only a small number of people who have this journey, this whole programme would be worth it. But we are hoping that with the broadened approach, we can reach a significant number of the detainees.
So now, Yvonne plans to pay it forward. She is coming in, to be a volunteer to help other drug abusers. That’s a cycle that we want to see. We wish her every success, and I think her story can motivate many others.
Next Steps For Prisons – Expanding Community Corrections
We want more inmates to go on the path that Yvonne has taken, to serve a part of their sentences in the community, as long as it is safe to do so, and it can facilitate their reintegration.
There are plans to introduce a new scheme. We call it the Employment Preparation Scheme. It is an expanded version of the current Work Release Scheme. This new scheme will allow inmates to undergo skills upgrading, further their education, enhance their employability while under CBP. They will be better prepared to deal with work after their release.
Running a Smart Prison Concept
We strengthened aftercare, and we are also moving Prisons towards the “Prison Without Guards” strategy that has been put in place and conceptualised some years ago. The vision will use technology to automate routine work so that it allows prison officers to focus more on the engagement and rehabilitation – the personal side, in a positive way.
SPC will be the first prison facility to use advanced facial recognition technology that will allow inmates to go to certain parts of the compound within the prison in a safe and secure manner, automatically, without the need for a prison officer to go with them wherever they are going. Inmates will have to use a two-factor authentication process – they need to scan their wrist tag and verify their identity with their faces, and the gates will automatically open.
SPC is a new milestone with better infrastructure, incorporating technology and programmes. to support inmates and our officers who will be better empowered to help the inmates.
I congratulate Prisons and Commissioner on the opening of SPC. Thank you to all of our prison officers and our partners. Thank you.