Published: 18 December 2021
Co-Chairperson of the Home Team Volunteer Network, Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee,
Commissioner Shie Yong Lee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. Thank you for inviting me to the Singapore Prison Service Volunteer Awards Ceremony 2021.
2. Today, we are gathered to recognise and honour 266 volunteers who will be awarded the Long Service Award. They represent many volunteers who have faithfully served in various programmes in support of our rehabilitation efforts, for many years, some for over 30 years!
3. Besides individuals, organisations play key roles in implementing programmes and coordinating volunteers.
4. Today, we recognise 23 such organisations who have partnered us for at least 10 years, with a new award we call the 10-year Journey Plaque.
5. I thank all our volunteers and partner organisations for your service and dedication to this cause.
Volunteers Are Key Partners in Corrections
6. Volunteers are an integral part of the Prisons team for the rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates.
7. They provide support to various programmes in prison, ranging from religious services, support groups, education, and enrichment courses to family-based activities.
8. Besides, volunteers play an important role in the community by continuing the relationships they have built with ex-offenders, so that they can render further support to them after their release.
9. Let me share with you the example of Mr Manmohan Singh, a recipient of the 10-year Long Service Award. Mr Singh is a volunteer and Vice-Chairman of the Sikh Welfare Council. He goes to Institution B4 to provide religious counselling to Sikh inmates. In 2018, Mr Singh started a WhatsApp chatgroup called ‘Chardi Kala’, to stay connected with ex-offenders after they are released. ‘Chardi Kala’ is an expression in Sikhism which translates to positivity and optimism. Today, the chatgroup is a vibrant support group where members get connected and encourage each other. Some ex-offenders from the chatgroup, have also gone on to volunteer with the Sikh Welfare Council. Thank you, Mr Singh for spreading ‘Chardi Kala’.
10. Volunteers are also advocates, helping to raise awareness and generate acceptance of ex-offenders and their families.
11. Mr David Siow, from the Christian Counselling Services, or CCS, is one example. Mr Siow will be receiving his 3-year Long Service Award this morning. Mr Siow was previously a drug abuser and a gang member. He is now a staunch advocate for raising awareness on accepting ex-offenders and their families. On top of being a volunteer with CCS, he is the Yellow Ribbon Community Project Deputy Champion at Taman Jurong. He helps children and families of incarcerated persons by conducting home visits, providing pro-social support to families and making referrals to address their needs. Thank you, Mr Siow.
12. Prisons’ volunteer network has come a long way, from fewer than 200 volunteers in the year 2000, to more than 2,400 registered volunteers today.
13. A growing number of volunteers are ‘desistors’, or ex-offenders who have successfully desisted from crime.
14. We are very heartened by this, as it shows the desire of these individuals to ‘pay it forward’, to help others who may be going through similar struggles.
15. Apart from individual contributions from volunteers, organisations also play a key role in contributing to the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders through their partnership with Prisons.
16. One example is The Salvation Army. Having partnered with Prisons in providing family-centric programmes since year 2000, it is receiving the 10-year Journey Plaque this year. The Salvation Army runs the Prison Support Services-Kids In Play initiative. This initiative supports children and families through professional casework and counselling, providing a community of support for children and caregivers, and strengthening family bonds.
17. Organisations like this, The Salvation Army, help to mend broken family ties and build strong families. This is extremely important in preventing re-offending and mitigating inter-generational offending.
18. Another 10-year Journey Plaque recipient this year is the Industrial & Services Co-Operative Society Ltd, or ISCOS in short.
19. ISCOS has been supporting ex-offenders and their families through various programmes and services, such as providing job training, placement assistance and support groups for ex-offenders, since 1989. The ISCOS ‘Titans’, ex-offenders who volunteer with ISCOS, also conduct motivational talks and mentoring programmes for inmates in prison. As one of the founding members of the Community Action for the Rehabilitation of Ex-Offenders Network, or what we call the CARE Network, ISCOS plays an active role in engaging the community to help ex-offenders reintegrate back into society, together with their families.
20. Prisons is fortunate to have strong rehabilitation partners in its volunteers and partner organisations, and we will continue to mobilise the strengths of the community to support offenders.
Appreciating Volunteers Amidst Challenging Times
21. This work of our volunteers is even more critical during this pandemic, given frequent disruptions and restrictions imposed on our face-to-face programmes and contact time with inmates.
22. Your perseverance to adapt to changes and determination to continue your good work have made a deep and lasting impression on inmates. One inmate was moved to write an e-letter to his religious volunteers from Prison Fellowship Singapore – Mr Donald Thio, Ms Susan Ang, and Ms Doreen Lee. He expressed how his spirits were lifted whenever he saw them in person this year, amidst the many disruptions brought about by the pandemic. The volunteers have touched and inspired him to strengthen his faith, and to look forward to a brighter future.
23. I believe the inmates do see all the efforts put in by the volunteers, even though sometimes, they may not always express it. So, on behalf of all the inmates, I would like to thank all of you for your efforts. Thank you for going the extra mile, to ensure that inmates continue to receive support especially during these challenging times.
Strengthening Community Support
24. The two-year recidivism rate has remained low and stable, averaging about 23% over the past 3 years. This means that almost 4 in 5 persons who were released from prison, do not return to prison within two years of release. This result is a testament to the strong support from our community partners, including all our volunteers.
25. However, we need to ask ourselves, what else can we do to support and empower those who had not been so successful? What more can we collectively do to ensure that those who have managed to leave their old ways, continue to lead crime-free and productive lives?
26. We believe that community support is essential in paving the way forward, and community partners can co-create rehabilitative solutions.
27. We have been doing this through the Throughcare Volunteer Framework, or TVF, since 2019, where agencies proactively reach out to the offenders via their programmes to offer them pro-social support when they are released from prison.
28. This year, Prisons expanded the TVF with more organisations coming on board.
29. We are proud to announce today that all our partnering religious organisations and their volunteers have adopted TVF, along with some other secular organisations.
30. The benefits of the TVF can be seen through the efforts of Ustaz Muhammad Taha. An engineer by profession, Ustaz Taha has a strong passion for working with youths and volunteers with the Family and Inmates Throughcare Assistance Haven, or FITRAH in short. Ustaz Taha provides religious guidance sessions to male youths at the Reformative Training Centre, or RTC, twice a week.
31. Ustaz Taha met ‘Rahim’, not his real name, while ‘Rahim’ was in the RTC. Building on the relationship that began from inside the prison, ‘Rahim’ still meets Ustaz Taha for weekly Quranic studies in the community. Through these sessions, ‘Rahim’ has opportunities to build up pro-social networks in the community as he interacts with others. With Ustaz Taha’s encouragement, ‘Rahim’ has found a job recently, and has enrolled himself in a workplace safety course.
32. I thank Ustaz Taha for his heart for youths, and commend ‘Rahim’ for his journey thus far.
33. Currently, more than half of our offenders in prison have access to Throughcare volunteers, through the various religious programmes.
34. Our aim is that by the year 2025, 80% or more offenders will have access to Throughcare volunteer support, as we bring more partners and more volunteers on board.
35. Before I end, I would like to share a quote from one of our volunteers, Mr A Sriyanande de Silva, to encapsulate the volunteering spirit and the volunteering experience.
36. From Mr de Silva, and I quote, “Volunteering comes from the heart. One must have the passion to serve the community and to help others. Our job is to remind offenders that there are no magic formulas in life. We tell them that change is in them, and they must man up and fight the good fight. We will be their biggest supporters, and we will be cheering them on,” unquote.
37. Mr de Silva, who is a volunteer with Muneeswaran Community Services, is 82 years young, and he will be receiving a 30-year Long Service Award today. Thank you, Mr de Silva.
38. As rightfully pointed out by Mr de Silva, both hard work and heart work go into volunteering and supporting ex-offenders.
39. It is not easy for ex-offenders to change, but your support and your encouragement will definitely go a long, long way in helping them persevere in their journey.
40. I thank all volunteers and partner organisations for your invaluable support and dedication.
41. Let us continue to work together in support of our offenders in their rehabilitation and keeping Singapore a caring and cohesive nation.
42. Thank you.