Commissioner Desmond Chin,
Volunteers and Community Partners,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
- It is good to be back with all of you here tonight. I’m happy to see quite a number of familiar faces. And I am especially happy to see many new ones. These new faces can only mean one of two things, either my memory is starting to fail me, or our network has grown, and more people have joined us in our cause to help offenders rebuild their lives.
- It has to be the latter. I am told that we have a total of 1,900 volunteers, and over 40 community partners currently.
- Tonight, we are here to celebrate every one of you. To thank and recognise your contributions; in helping offenders in their rehabilitation and reintegration journey; in supporting their families through difficult times; and inspiring others to give offenders a second chance.
- I’ve talked and interacted with many of you. And what stands out is your steadfast commitment to helping offenders and their families. Many of you have made personal sacrifices to dedicate your time and energies to helping offenders get their lives back on track. Your work can be challenging and frustrating. Yet, you have pressed on, because you believe that all of us can play a part to rebuild hope and empower lives.
Need for community support
- But how do we help ex-offenders stay on the straight and narrow path? A study by the Singapore Prison Service has identified three key factors that prevent ex-offenders from going back to crime.
- First, the individual factor, which is the inner will of individuals to stay away from crime.
- Second, the social factor, where strong interpersonal relationships and social bonds, such as family ties, can motivate individuals to change for the better.
- And third, the environmental factor, where a supportive and structured environment, that reinforces positive lifestyles, facilitates individuals’ reintegration into the community.
- All three factors go hand in hand. It is a complex process, involving a wider community beyond prison walls. And here is where we need the community’s help – to extend a genuine helping hand to the offenders.
Impact of volunteers’ and community partners’ work
- Volunteers and community partners like yourself play a role in all three factors that keep an ex-offender out of prison.
- Offenders can build their self-confidence and strengthen their will to change for the better through interactions with our volunteers.
- Take, for instance, Joe, a repeat offender who was first incarcerated in 1977 for drug-related offences. Religious volunteers reached out to Joe when he was last imprisoned. They built a friendship with Joe, and inspired him to believe in his ability to change for the better.
- Religious support and counselling have been key in helping some of our offenders turn over a new leaf. Some of our most dedicated volunteers conduct religious classes to help offenders find the right path and purpose in life. Let me just highlight a few of these volunteers who are here tonight.
- We have Ustaz K H Majeed from the Singapore Kadayanallur Muslim League and En-Naeem Mosque, who has served with us for twelve years working with Muslim inmates.
- There’s also Mr Tan Tian Huat from the Singapore Buddhist Federation, who has conducted Buddhist religious programmes and mentored other volunteers over the past twenty-four years.
- And there’s Mr Michael Lim who has been volunteering for the past twenty-five years, in various organisations like Teen Challenge and Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association (SANA) Religious Group of Volunteers aside from his role as our coordinator for Christian volunteers in SANA. Not only that, he is also a Singapore Prison Service Befriender.
- Gentlemen, thank you.
- So what happened to Joe, you may wish to know. Well, Joe was released from prisons in 2005. He left determined to do better, having been strengthened by the friendships he established with the religious volunteers. He has been actively volunteering in the community since. He has also returned to prison, but happily, as a volunteer, to pay it forward for the help he had received.
- Beyond the prison walls, your work with the families of offenders is equally important. You play a big role in ensuring that offenders are released into a positive social and familial environment. One which gives them the motivation to stay on the right track, and not reoffend.
- I’d like to tell you Peter’s story in this regard. Peter was imprisoned six times since the late nineties for a series of secret society and drug offences. His story of repeat offending is sadly not uncommon. Fortunately, Peter’s story has taken a big positive turn. During his last period of incarceration, Peter received help from the Prison Fellowship Singapore (or PFS in short). The PFS Family Care Ministry helped Peter’s family stay strong and intact during his imprisonment. They run a weekly children’s programme, called Care Club, for children of offenders, and Peter’s daughter was able to participate in the programme. Peter’s wife persevered and stayed by his side. She hoped that one day, Peter will be reunited with his family, for good.
- Peter was released from prison two years ago. His family provided the motivation for him to be a better son, a better husband, and a better father. PFS continues to journey with Peter and his family, and support his reintegration into society. Peter has not let his family down, and has stayed out of trouble since.
- We have many other examples of organisations -such as the Association of Muslim Professionals, Salvation Army, Focus on the Family, Singapore Children’s Society, among others – who work closely with the families of offenders to ensure that they have a strong family unit to return to, when they step out of prison.
- Beyond the family, our volunteers and partners play a big part in creating a supportive environment for our offenders. One which reinforces the encouragement they received from their family, and bolsters their individual will, if they falter.
- Like Peter, Raj was a repeat offender and was incarcerated for drug-related activities. Like both Joe and Peter, Raj also received help during his time in prison. For him, it was through the Hindu Centre MITRA programme. Raj was given the opportunity to continue participating in programmes and activities at the Hindu Centre after he was released from prison in 2012. This has kept Raj meaningfully engaged, in an environment that was supportive of change and focused on his reintegration journey. It kept Raj away from the bad company he was exposed to in the past.
- Raj is now part of a bhajan, a Hindu religious choir group, and has performed in temples during festive occasions. He continues to participate in the Hindu Centre’s activities, especially in the training of new MITRA counsellors. It has been six years since Raj left prison, and he has not looked back!
- We are fortunate to have partners like the Hindu Centre, PFS, Industrial and Services Cooperative Society (ISCOS), and many others who support our efforts to reintegrate offenders into society. Particularly, by providing emotional support and counselling long after offenders leave prison. And also, practical support in the form of employment assistance and skills upgrading, to help them stay on track.
- Joe, Peter and Raj’s successful rehabilitation and reintegration journeys are a credit to their own inner will and desire to change for the better, to pave better lives for themselves and their families. Yet, I am sure that they would be the first to also acknowledge that their journeys have been made less rocky by the vital role played by volunteers and partners like you.
- You gave them the motivation they need to grab that second chance; by building rapport with the offenders and helping them develop a sense of purpose in life; by supporting offenders’ families and helping them stay intact and strong; and by providing a supportive and healthy environment for ex-offenders to ensure they stay away from crime. Your contributions also extend beyond, as the reformed ex-offenders go on to help many others.
- I thank all of you for coming forward, in rebuilding hope in, and empowering our offenders in their rehabilitation and reintegration journey. And congratulations especially, to all our award recipients tonight.
- Let’s continue working hand-in-hand, towards a society without reoffending.
- Thank you.