Selarang Halfway House and Opening Ceremony of New Prisons Headquarters - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

Published: 11 January 2019

Commissioner Desmond Chin,

Chairman of SCORE, Mr Chng Hwee Hong,

Home Team colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,


1.     A very good morning to all of you.


2.     It is very good to be part of this project. Selarang Halfway House is the first Government-built Halfway House, purpose-built. A number of other facilities are still under construction, and will be ready by the middle of next year.


3.     The purpose is to improve rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders. This has been a key part of our thinking so that they do not come back to the prison. A lot of things have been done over the years, and this is a further big step in that process. So we try to make the environment conducive for rehabilitation and reintegration, but still secure.




4.     Later this month, the 2nd Reading for the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill will take place. I will be doing it. It is going to provide greater enforcement powers to CNB. But a key part of it is also to strengthen the rehabilitation regime for drug abusers. We want to try to break their cycle of addiction.


5.     We hope that when this Bill is passed, the infrastructure of the legislation is such that it will help us. “Pure” drug abusers - those who come in for drugs but without any other criminal charges - at present, they are sent to DRCs for intensive rehabilitation. Under the current situation, after two strikes, they are sent for long-term imprisonment. We have studied the evidence very carefully, and we think that we can do more on the rehabilitation side and maybe relook at whether we really need long-term imprisonment for these “pure” drug abusers.


6.     As many of you know, the drug abuse situation for an individual is really a complex set of factors. So we want to calibrate the programmes that they undergo. In fact, we want to target the attitudes that lead to the drug abuse situation. We want to look at their social and reintegration needs.


7.     What Prisons has been doing is focusing more on the skills training and job support so that they are more employable. Focusing on the family so that the family can help the abusers stay clean. We also want to try to bring in the religious organisations - which in fact are already in - to try and increase the programmes and focus a little bit more on social activities and healthy, alternative pursuits.


8.     This is a big change. Post-release, the period of supervision will be increased. Many of the things I have been saying have been introduced previously by the previous Commissioners. Part of the infrastructure is that we now supervise them for two years. This Bill will provide for supervision for five years, post-release. As most of you know, two years or one year is okay, but by the time they reach the fifth year, their relapse rate is nearly one in two. So I think supervision for a longer period - five years - will hopefully help us help them.


9.     To help them better reintegrate into society, we will also be expanding our community-based programmes (CBPs). There are three aspects to it.





10.     The first is to try enhance community corrections and practices. What does this mean? We want to focus more on psychology-based correctional programmes to look at each individual offender - their attitudes, their approaches, and then try and tailor the programmes as much as we can.


11.     Now that data is available and can be used much more, we can assess the types of intervention and amount of supervision that each offender requires. And of course, the digital platforms mean that we can deliver them using video-conferencing without having to be physically present, for example.


12.     It is a lot more targeted. The point was set many years ago. Many important steps have been taken. These are further sets of steps in the same path.




13.     The second aspect is strengthening throughcare. We want better end-to-end oversight of the inmate’s journey through Prisons. One way of doing it is to try and get the same case officer from the beginning to the end.And this officer will also continue with the inmate post-release, whenever possible, because there are limitations.


14.     We are also trying to empower the inmates to take charge of their own rehabilitation journey. A mobile app is being developed to provide inmates access to resources, notes for self-revision and a jobs database so that they can research and identify what jobs they can do and apply for them. That will be an addition to the very important help that they now receive from SCORE.



15.     The third aspect would be to use greater family and community support. The legislation, which I will be explaining in Parliament, will put it together. As many of you know, many families come forward to help but sometimes, family support is non-existent - the parents do not come for counselling, they do not understand the issues. We thought long and hard about it. We want to make it a legal requirement for families to attend the counselling. There might be some unhappiness but we think this is important because it is a total responsibility. It is not just a responsibility of society; it is not just a responsibility of Prisons. The family has got to be responsible too.


16.     We will also use trained facilitators to guide all newly-admitted offenders because once you are in prison, there is a negative impact on relationships, on family. How do you interact with your family? We will try to focus on that. Prisons will work with the Social Services Institute to offer more befrienders more training courses, to focus on interviewing and counselling skills so that they can help the prisoners much more, to equip them with the relevant skills.


17.     Speaking personally, one of the satisfactions of this job is that you can make a real difference to people’s lives. We have thought about this legislation. We said, let us do these things. Some of them did not look doable, like requiring families to attend. We discussed, took some leaps, we decided to move.


18.     The rest of the world is talking about the legalisation of drugs, including in this region unfortunately. The data - I do not know if some of you read The New York Times article which was reprinted in The Straits Times earlier this week - the US states which have legalised drugs have done so because the pharma companies and drug companies, changed their debate from pure drugs to “drugs are important for medical purposes”. They were very smart. A lot of money went into advertisements - on the importance of drugs for medical purposes. I have told international audiences, if drugs are important for medical purposes, I would like to hear that from doctors and medical associations, and not from pharma or PR companies. I said I have not come across a single respectable medical association in the world which said the free use of drugs is important for medical purposes.


19.     Our hospitals have used heroin when absolutely necessary, but under controlled conditions. We do not have a problem with that, but you do not use that to then argue generally for free availability of drugs. They (the US pharma and drug companies) changed the nature of the debate, they have advertised heavily. The nature of their political system allows a lot of money to go into this. They have gone to state legislatures and state parliaments to say, you better get a lot more tax revenue. Many of the American states have gone down this route. Now they find that their spending on medical costs is three or four times the tax revenues they are getting from drugs. That does not include the loss in productivity and increased crime rate which has taken place.


20.     I think in a way, we are very lucky to be in an environment where the Home Team and other agencies are looking at what really matters for people. What really matters for people is to break the drug habit, and for us to help them and to put more money and resources into that. Luckily we are in a position to do that, and I think this is something that we can take great professional pride in.




21.   We will also officially open the new Prisons Headquarters today, located within the Changi Prison Complex. This will allow Prisons better command and control over its operations, and enhance its readiness to deal with contingencies.






22.     Prisons, over the years, has done excellent work. We now have a good rehabilitation and reintegration regime. But the work is never finished. We will continue to try and improve.


23.     Thank you.


Prisons Management and Rehabilitation
Community Engagement