Published: 18 November 2022
Co-Chair of the Home Team Volunteer Network,
Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee,
Commissioner of Prisons,
Ms Shie Yong Lee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. Good evening.
2. I am very happy to be able to meet you in person, and be part of tonight’s event for the Singapore Prison Service Volunteer Awards 2022.
3. Every year, Prisons holds this special event to recognise individuals and organisations who give their time, energy and resources to partner Prisons in rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders, and supporting their families. This year, I am especially glad that we are able to host and meet you in person again.
4. The volunteering journey has its ups and downs. It is not always easy to work with offenders and their families, but all of you have chosen this noble path of service, to reach out to those in need, often in their darkest hours.
5. I am deeply inspired by your dedication and actions. It is through your efforts that lives are rebuilt and we build a more caring and compassionate society. Whenever I have the opportunity to meet you, I am always inspired and feel fortunate that we have people and organisations like yourselves, working together to make lives better.
Honouring Our Volunteers
6. Tonight, we celebrate the long service of 416 volunteers. I would like to specially mention Venerable N Sumana Thero, our longest-serving award recipient. Venerable Sumana, who is 72 years young, has been volunteering as a religious counsellor with the Singapore Buddhist Federation for the past 35 years.
7. I would like to mention our two 30-year award recipients as well, Mr Richard Tan from Christian Counselling Services and Dr Kuldip Singh from the Sikh Welfare Council.
8. I hope their unwavering dedication will inspire the rest of us to continue on this journey of service, and encourage others to join us.
9. We also pay tribute to 58 organisations, social service agencies and social groups for their years of support and contributions to the rehabilitation landscape.
10. Our partnering organisations play an important role in supporting and nurturing volunteers in journeying with offenders, ex-offenders, and their families. They also work with Prisons in co-creating rehabilitation programmes, raising public awareness on the issues and challenges faced by offenders, ex-offenders and their families, and mobilising community support.
11. One example is Prisons’ long-standing partnership with Prison Fellowship Singapore, which can be traced all the way back almost 70 years, to 1953. Through Prison Fellowship Singapore, we are able to tap on more than 900 volunteers and more than 180 partnering churches, to provide religious counselling and support in prison for inmates, as well as prosocial support in the community to ex-offenders and their families.
12. I thank Venerable Sumana, Mr Richard Tan, Dr Kuldip Singh, Prison Fellowship Singapore, and everyone here for your years of service and contributions. You have made a significant impact. To highlight a key indicator, our two-year recidivism rate has been on a general downward trend, falling to 20% for the 2019 release cohort, which is among the lowest in the world. This would not have been possible without the tireless dedication of all our volunteers and partners.
Strengthening Prosocial Support
13. The theme of tonight’s event is ‘Stronger Together, Rebuilding Lives’. This theme reminds us that we need everyone on board to better support the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders. In this regard, I am heartened that today, there are more than 2,900 volunteers registered with Prisons. This is more than ten times the number of volunteers working with Prisons about 20 years ago.
14. I spoke earlier about our two-year recidivism rate. The five-year recidivism rate is, however, higher, at about 41%. We want to bring it down further.
15. Our rehabilitative efforts focus on putting ex-offenders on a stable footing to start their reintegration after release. After they complete their sentence, they need continued support in the community where they and their families face most of their challenges.
16. Research has shown that successful, long-term desistance depends on ex-offenders having strong social capital and positive social relationships. As part of this ecosystem, volunteers play an important role in strengthening prosocial support for offenders and helping them build up their network of positive peers and social circles.
17. This is the key idea behind Prisons’ Throughcare Volunteer Framework. Implemented in 2019, the framework ensures continuity of prosocial support for, and engagement of, offenders from incare to aftercare. Volunteers would build rapport with offenders in prison and continue to befriend them after their release. Currently, about half of the organisations partnering Prisons, including all 11 religious organisations, are on board the Throughcare Volunteer Framework. We hope to build on this good progress and expand throughcare collaborations.
18. I thus call upon each and every one of you to continue to provide prosocial support to the offenders under your care after their release. This can be in the form of being a listening ear, providing advice, or helping them get connected to wider communities of support. Prisons will be more than happy to work with you to develop initiatives to support offenders and their families.
19. I also urge you to explore ways to foster deeper collaborations with one another. If we work together as a community, we can be more effective in looking out for ex-offenders and their families, and referring them to the necessary assistance. At the same time, we can tap on each other’s resources and strengths. Alone, we can do so little, but together, we can do so much more.
20. Let me share with you the story of an ex-offender, who I shall refer to as “Ali”.
21. Ali, who is now 64 years old, has a long history of drug abuse and drug-related offences, dating all the way back to 1974. Ali was last admitted to prison in 2014, for drug consumption.
22. During his most recent time in prison, Ali attended religious counselling conducted by FITRAH. Ali expressed his desire to turn his life around and break free from his drug addiction, and received a lot of motivation and moral support from his religious counsellors.
23. Ali was released in 2019, and emplaced on the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme (MAS). While he was on the MAS, Ali’s Reintegration Officer referred him to FITRAH for befriending and prosocial support. FITRAH befrienders regularly engaged Ali in the community, providing him with good counsel, companionship, and moral support. This was important for Ali, as he was single and stayed in a transitional shelter.
24. FITRAH also referred Ali to mosques for financial assistance and opportunities to attend religious classes and activities. Other partners came on board to support Ali as well. For instance, the Indian Muslim Social Service Association provided him with grocery rations.
25. FITRAH and the various community partners continue to be in touch with Ali. I am happy to share that Ali is coping well, and has secured a rental flat in September.
26. It has been three years since Ali stepped out of prison. With the support from the community, Ali has been able to better navigate the challenges faced, stay away from drugs, and lead a meaningful life. I believe that the efforts of everyone present here have created many more success stories like Ali’s.
27. Going forward, Prisons plans to recruit volunteers to provide aftercare supervision for offenders emplaced on community-based programmes. These volunteers will work hand-in-hand with Prisons’ Reintegration Officers, case managers, and various other partners, in supporting ex-offenders during their transition back to the community.
28. Prisons will also continue to support our volunteers through developmental trainings and courses. Prisons has expanded the number of learning spaces to more than 1,800 this year, which is double that of previous years. A wide variety of learning modes are offered, including blended learning and e-learning, to suit the different learning needs of volunteers. I encourage you to make full use of these learning opportunities.
29. The support of the community is key in helping ex-offenders who want to start afresh, reintegrate into society and lead a life free from crime and drugs. The rehabilitation and reintegration journey is not easy, but your dedication brings hope and strength to ex-offenders and their families.
30. I am heartened by our collective effort as we strive to rebuild lives and help ex-offenders achieve their fullest potential as contributing members of our society.
31. I would like to sincerely thank all of you, as you continue your journey with us, and I hope we can also bring more onboard this journey. Once again, congratulations to all award recipients and thank you for your time, effort, commitment and tireless contributions.
32. And I wish each and every one of you a pleasant evening. Thank you.