Singapore Prison Service Volunteer Awards 2020 – Speech by Mr Desmond Tan, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment

Published: 17 December 2020


1. Thank you for the introduction. I just want to send a very warm greeting to everyone who is attending this event today. I would also especially like to thank the organisers for making this happen. So, today, I am not the Guest-of-Honour. All of you who are attending, who are volunteering, you are the Guest-of-Honour. So, I just want to thank all of you for your commitment and your dedication over the year.


2. Let me first send my greetings to my co-chairperson of the Home Team Volunteer Network, Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee. If he is around, maybe you would like to say ‘hello’. Thank you, Prof Ho. I think he is no stranger to all of us here. I just wanted to say hi to him.


3. Greetings also to Commissioner Shie Yong Lee, as well as senior officers from the Singapore Prison Service, and distinguished volunteers, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.


4. First of all, thank you for inviting me to the Singapore Prison Service Volunteer Awards.


5. I understand this is an annual event and despite the fact that we are now in a different situation, a slightly more difficult situation, we are still able to continue to recognise and appreciate all our volunteers for your hard work, and also  to honour the contributions of our prison volunteers here today.


6. Today, there are 323 volunteers who are receiving the Long Service Award. That’s a very big number on an annual basis, so, thank you. Five of you are receiving the 30-year Long Service Award, which is to me, a momentous milestone – 30 years of volunteering with the Singapore Prison Service. Thank you very much. Your commitment to volunteering serves as a real inspiration to all of us.


7. I would also like to recognise the 47 organisations, including social service agencies, private companies, and Government agencies. We would also like to recognise you for your contributions to the rehabilitation as well as reintegration of offenders.


8. The effective rehabilitation of offenders and their successful reintegration into society are instrumental in preventing re-offending. As prison volunteers, you are key to these efforts.


9. We have volunteers who are supporting the offenders’ families, by channelling assistance and community support resources to them. We also have volunteers who provide religious services to offenders in prison, which gives them a lot of emotional and spiritual support from time to time. There are also volunteers who befriend the offenders and guide them to build pro-social relationships that will help them along the way, in their reintegration. As you can see, our volunteers do different things, but collectively, your efforts complement the work of our prison officers, and is really critical.


10. This year, we also celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Befriending Programme. Under this programme, befrienders hold regular sessions with offenders and provide them with support and guidance while they are in prison, and even after they are being released. When this programme first started, there were less than 40 befrienders. But today, I’m very happy to let you know that we have over 370 befrienders who have helped more than 1,300 offenders through this programme. All these would not have been possible without the support and dedication of our volunteers. If this were a physical session, I would ask everybody to give yourselves a big round of applause, but you can do so as well at your own time.


Dedication of Volunteers and Community Partners Amidst Covid-19

11. This year has been particularly challenging, as I mentioned, due to COVID-19.


12. During the Circuit Breaker, we had to suspend all in-person rehabilitation programmes and services.


13. But, our volunteers, despite all these restrictions, they stepped up – you stepped up – and went the extra mile. For example, our volunteers made weekly video-recordings so that religious services would not be disrupted and ensure that they could continue to serve the prisoners. We also had befrienders who continued to maintain contact with the offenders by writing letters and through phone calls. So, who says writing letters is a thing of the past? I think when it comes to times like this, it is still the personal touch that’s very important.


14. I’m glad that even as the COVID-19 situation improved, SPS has also been able to gradually resume more in-person, face-to-face, rehabilitation programmes and services, while still adhering to safe management measures.


15. On behalf of the Home Team – MHA and SPS – I would like to thank our volunteers for your dedication to helping offenders rehabilitate and reintegrate, and for your understanding in adapting to the COVID-19 situation.


Expansion Of Throughcare Volunteer Framework

16. This brings me now to the next part of my remarks, to talk about the expansion of the Throughcare Volunteer Framework that was introduced in 2019, after a study by SPS found that having supportive pro-social relationships really helped offenders desist from crimes.


17. The Throughcare Volunteer Framework ensures continuity of pro-social support for, and engagement of, offenders from incare to aftercare.


18. Under this framework, volunteers build rapport with the offenders through various interest-based activities and continue to befriend the offenders after their release from prison.


19. Let me share a story about an ex-offender John, which is not his real name, who has benefitted from this Throughcare Volunteer Framework.


20. John had been in and out from prison many times for committing unlicensed moneylending offences.


21. However, during his last imprisonment term in 2019, he resolved to leave prison a better man, like many of them when they leave prison. He made good use of his time in prison by taking part in various rehabilitation programmes and services.


22. For instance, John participated in the “Kawan-Kawan” programme run by the Industrial and Services Co-operative Society Ltd, or ISCOS in short, where he learnt about tea appreciation, did craftwork, and also played sports such as Captain’s Ball.


23. Through these activities, John developed very strong rapport and pro-social relationships with the ISCOS volunteers.


24. One of the volunteers that John got to know was Mr Kim Whye Kee – a reformed ex-offender and the founder of Qi Pottery. Whye Kee played a key role in John’s rehabilitation and reintegration. John had been worried that he would not have the courage to stay away from his old friends after his release from prison. He could then succumb to negative peer pressure and commit offences again. But, after he heard about how Whye Kee stayed away from his negative peers, John drew inspiration from him. He felt hopeful and confident that he, too, could overcome such challenges after his release.


25. After his release from prison, John continues to remain in touch with the ISCOS volunteers.


26. Today, I’m very happy to say that John is happily married and has found a job as an administrative coordinator in a real estate company.


27. John’s successful rehabilitation and reintegration into society would not have been possible without the encouragement and strong support from our volunteers, like yourselves.


28. Therefore, SPS will be expanding the Throughcare Volunteer Framework, by getting more volunteers and social service agencies on board to adopt this framework.


29. This will help us strengthen the pro-social support networks for offenders and help them from reoffending.


Conclusion – Engagement and Development of Volunteers

30. Before I end, I will touch on how SPS will be enhancing its engagement and development of volunteers.


31. Each and every one of our volunteers is important to us. Your work is important. SPS will continue to engage you, our volunteers, listen to your feedback and strengthen partnerships, via regular dialogue and engagement sessions.


32. SPS will also continue to support our volunteers who wish to build up their skillsets, under the Development Framework for Offender Rehabilitation Personnel, or DORP in short, introduced in 2014. DORP is a structured training framework for our volunteers. Since May 2018, SPS has partnered the Social Service Institute (SSI) to introduce training modules such as counselling and motivational interviewing skills for our volunteers. Volunteers who complete these modules will also achieve nationally recognised certificates. About 80 volunteers have since completed the SSI-run courses so far.


33. SPS has also worked with the Singapore After Care Association and the Singapore University of Social Sciences to pilot an e-learning platform, where volunteers can participate in e-learning at their own pace. I’m happy to say that more than 100 participants have already completed the “Risk, Needs, and Responsivity” e-learning module launched in August 2020.


34. Let me encourage all our volunteers to make full use of these opportunities, to develop your competencies so that you will be able to better support offenders.


35. Once again, I want to thank all of you and all the organisations here today for believing in our work and supporting us in the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders.


36. Our work would not be possible without every each and every one of you.


37. Thank you very much, have a good day, and congratulations!