“2GATHER – EFFECTING CHANGE, TRANSFORMING LIVES”
- Reformation is tough, but rewarding work. From the video, you can see how much effort it takes. Our colleagues and partners deserve no less than another big round of applause. Thank you all so much!
- It is very hard not to be moved by the simple compilation of a video like that. When you look at all the lives that are affected, that go off-course, and you hear how much effort it takes to get people back on track. We all know that this is a journey that we must walk together. Trying to do it alone would be very difficult.
- Chairman of SCORE, Mr Chng Hwee Hong; Commissioner Desmond Chin; Colleagues of SPS and SCORE; partners and friends, thank you for inviting me back to your Corporate Advance.
- The theme this year is “2Gather - Effecting Change, Transforming Lives”. It is about SPS and SCORE working hand-in-hand, together with our community partners, to strengthen rehabilitation and community correctional efforts, and to transform the lives of offenders.
- This follows on from last year’s Advance, where I had the opportunity to join you, and I recalled challenging you, all Captains of Lives, to make every offender a better person. When an offender is released, we hope not to ever see him come back. That is the hope.
- We have succeeded in helping more ex-offenders get back to normal life. Recidivism has fallen. Two decades ago, around 1998, recidivism was over 40 per cent. By now, it has come down to about 24 per cent. We have made tremendous progress. But to get the next breakthrough, we must challenge ourselves to transform. In other words, we do not want to be satisfied with just this progress. We want to stretch it further because lives are at stake - it is not just the lives of the present generation of offenders, but the lives of the next generation.
- There are three key priorities in our transformation. The first, is to become a Learning Prison. Second, to intensify Community Corrections, and third, to upskill our Captains of Lives.
Become a Learning Prison
- Let me deal with each one of them. The first - Becoming a Learning Prison. We know that the key to successful rehabilitation lies within the offender. Real change can only happen when an offender takes ownership of the rehabilitation process. That is always going to be the key.
- So, one of the most urgent tasks is to build up the sense of ownership among offenders. How to make them feel that ‘This is about me and what I can do to change my life?’ What is it that we can do during their time with us that could be more effective? I believe the idea of a ‘Learning Prison’, which the SPS and SCORE team has implemented since January this year, holds a lot of promise.
- To become a ‘Learning Prison’, we will help offenders transform themselves from passive learners to active learners who take ownership of their rehabilitation journey for sustainable and lasting change. In other words, we have to nurture that seed within them to want that change for themselves and their families. And then, as a result of that sense of ownership, they become active participants of the programmes that we designed for them. Otherwise, they are passive and it does not get internalised. That is the goal.
- Programmes such as psychology-based correctional programmes, literacy and family programmes are therefore now conducted at the start of an offender’s imprisonment, instead of towards the end, as was the case previously.
- This change in approach is important. From a practical standpoint, it provides a longer runway for offenders to practice the skills and knowledge gained. But the deeper significance is the early signal it sends to the offender that his time behind bars is not just about restitution - making good for what wrong he did, but rehabilitation - making himself a better person that can make progress in life. So besides shaping a positive mindset, we also need to equip offenders with skills to integrate effectively into the workforce when they leave prison.
- Take Jabez Koh for example. Jabez was just 21 years old when he was incarcerated for drug trafficking. During his 16 years in prison, he completed his GCE ‘N’, ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. He also achieved WSQ qualifications in IT skills. Today, Jabez is a successful entrepreneur with his own logistics company and about 30 employees. This is no mean feat. It is not so easy to succeed as an entrepreneur anywhere in the world. And it is certainly a very competitive environment in Singapore, so for him to own a logistics company and be an employer to 30 people is quite something.
- Jabez’s academic studies and training laid the foundation for him to pursue his present career. Jabez has shared that to this day, his heart is filled with gratitude when he thinks about the opportunities given to him in prison. I believe Jabez is here with us today. Well done!
- While paper qualifications are not everything, they do provide ex-offenders with a passport of entry into quite a lot of jobs. We have to recognise this. It is right, therefore, that we have broadened the academic programmes and vocational skills training offered in prison.
- I am particularly glad the academic tracks are being expanded to include polytechnic diploma courses. An example is the Diploma in Business Practice, launched in November last year, in collaboration with Ngee Ann Polytechnic. It is a modular programme, which allows offenders who did not complete the diploma in prison, to continue at the Polytechnic after their release. So there’s continuation; it does not mean that you have to start all over from scratch.
- To help offenders identify useful skills training, SCORE has started to apply job profiling tools. These tools are very much in use in the private sector, amongst employers. So now, SCORE also uses them. It helps offenders discover what jobs are suitable for them. And they are then channelled to the appropriate vocational skills training based on potential job fit.
- These initiatives will help to enhance the offenders’ employability after their release, and reintegrate with the rest of society.
Intensify Community Corrections
- That is what we are going to do to strengthen our prisons as a Learning Prison. The other aspect I want to talk about is how we will intensify community corrections.
- Rehabilitation does not end when an offender leaves prison. In fact, research shows quite clearly that rehabilitation when the ex-offender is back in the community is just as important.
- Therefore, SPS’ community corrections will be expanded, with more offenders emplaced in the community while under supervision, and, very importantly, for longer durations of supervision.
- This expanded step-down approach will further smoothen the transition for offenders from incarceration to release. The aim is to build and strengthen protective factors that can support the offenders after release.
- Before emplacing the offenders on Community-Based Programmes (CBP), SPS will first assess their suitability. Offenders will also undergo programmes to better prepare them for life back outside. That is very important for us in Singapore. The country makes progress every year. A few years later, some things are not recognisable. And you really need that bit of a buffer to re-orientate to what Singapore is at the point of your release, not what it was when you first entered.
- Now, when in the community, the offenders will be closely supervised, and given the necessary support to help them reintegrate.
- Today, there are about 2,300 supervisees under SPS’ monitoring in the community. This number is projected to increase to over 3,000 by 2020, partly because the duration stretched out.
Rehabilitation of Drug Abusers
- A more rehabilitative approach will also be taken for drug abusers. With the passing of the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Bill in January this year, repeat drug abusers who have not committed any other offence will be channelled to the Drug Rehabilitation Centres, or DRCs, instead of imprisonment.
- After completing in-care rehabilitation, the drug abusers can be placed on CBP for longer durations of up to 28 months. That is more than two years. Previously, DRC offenders were emplaced on CBP for only up to nine months. So the duration has gone up to slightly more than three times longer. Being under SPS’ monitoring during CBP will go some way in achieving better outcomes in the inmates’ reintegration journey.
- Now we know that the ability to hold onto a job is a strong predictor of whether an ex-inmate will re-offend. So from 1 November 2018, in partnership with Workforce Singapore (WSG), SCORE had commenced a six-month pilot to place ex-offenders on what is known as the Career Trial scheme.
- Under the Career Trial scheme, ex-offenders undergo structured on-the-job training with prospective employers. It allows the employers to assess the ex-offender’s performance and job fit, before making a hiring decision. The reason why we want to do Career Trial, is so as to bring down the barriers for an employer to give an ex-offender a chance. Because the employer does not need to make a commitment of hiring on day one – he only needs to do so at the end of the Career Trial. I think this is also a good way for the ex-offender to have a chance to assess whether this job is quite suitable for him or her.
- And as at March 2019, a total of 31 employers have come on board the Career Trial for ex-offenders. 41 ex-offenders have benefited from Career Trial. 34 of them are still on the scheme, still part of this trial. Seven of them have completed the scheme and they were offered permanent employment.
- One of them is here. Her name is Ramona, and she has been employed as a Service Crew by Abaavo Group since January. Ramona is new to the F&B industry, and in truth she faced difficulties adapting to the work environment, because in F&B there are long hours and very high job expectations.
- However, Ramona’s supervisors have been very encouraging and supportive. They provided a structured orientation programme to prepare her for the job. They also knew that she has three children to look after and the important role she plays as a mother. So instead of placing Ramona on shift work, which is the norm in the F&B sector, they arranged for her to work from 9 to 5 – regular work hours. Her supervisors’ actions and empathy towards her needs have motivated her to put in her best effort at work. So today, after more than three months on the job, Ramona is confident and able to carry out her duties independently. Ramona, well done!
- So starting from the third quarter of this year, SCORE will enhance its use of community resources, such as the Continuing Education and Training Centres, to provide skills training to offenders on CBP.
Upskill our Captains of Lives
- The third area I want to touch on is our Captains of Lives, how we also need to help them become more effective. We do this through strengthening the training for our own officers.
- SPS is working with the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) to accredit the courses that our officers undergo. Examples include the Prison Officer Course and courses to develop skills such as community supervision. These accredited courses allow our officers to pursue higher academic qualifications, while deepening their competencies at work.
- We also want to recognise our officers for exemplary performance. Today, five SPS staff seated among you will receive the Outstanding Captains of Lives Award. Two SCORE staff will receive the HOPE Award. Both awards are the highest internal accolades for staff excellence in SPS and SCORE.
- Chief Warder Mariadas, who is also fondly known as ‘Das’ among his peers, is one of them. When I tell you what he does, you will understand why he is getting this award.
- Throughout his 20 years of service, Das has helped many offenders in their rehabilitation journey. I will just tell you about one. To protect this person’s privacy, let us call him ‘John’. Through his daily interactions with John, Das discovered that John had a very complex family and reintegration issues. John was separated from his wife and his children were not allowed to visit him. This is something that happens. John’s parents were also upset with him because they felt that he was beyond hope.
- So Das knew upon his release, very likely, John would have no home to go back to, and therefore, what would happen thereafter - you can almost predict. Das therefore knew that he had to help John resolve his family issues. Otherwise it would not be too long before John came back to the prison system.
- What did Das do? Das therefore worked with the counsellors to address each issue, one by one. For example, John was encouraged to start writing to his family to mend the bonds, to go through this process of healing. This is not something that you can imagine a lot of offenders being so keen to do – not so easy to get it going. But it did help a great deal.
- Over time, his family warmed up to him. They began to see that this was a person who has taken ownership of his problems and was willing to change. Encouraged by the support from his family, John continued on his journey of rehabilitation. He subsequently went a step further. He renounced his gang affiliations. It is a very public thing and it is a big deal for a person to choose to do that. When he did renounce his gang affiliation, he also actively participated in the rehabilitation programmes. Big step forward.
- By showing a genuine interest in John’s well-being, Das and many officers like Das, helped our offenders to change for the better.
- Besides what SPS and SCORE can do, John’s example also reinforces the importance of good family support. Without family, rehabilitation and reintegration is a lonely struggle. With family, an offender has a powerful source of motivation to draw on.
- This is why from July last year, SPS embarked on a trial to strengthen bonds between offenders and their families. The ‘Family Interventions & Reintegration Support Team’ or ‘FIRST’, involves Family Case Managers from SPS who help stabilise the offenders’ families, by working with the MSF and community partners to deal with their needs; because if the family is not stable, it is also very difficult to be a source of motivation. With their needs taken care of, families can be better engaged to focus on the rehabilitation of the offenders and become true pillars of support.
- Besides FIRST, structured family programmes are run in the prison to encourage offenders to build stronger relationships with their families. SPS also conducted a study on intergenerational offending, which I shared with you briefly at the start. The preliminary findings are quite sobering.
- Among offenders with children aged 12 and above, one in five had children who had also committed offences. The risk was also twice as high if the mother rather than the father was a drug offender. The impact of parents’ offending, therefore, on the next generation cannot be underestimated.
- But I also want us to be very careful about how we interpret the findings and not come to the wrong conclusions. We must not stigmatise the children of offenders or inmates. The large majority of the children do not become offenders, but the risk is higher.
- When we look into why the children become offenders, the contributing factors would include lack of parental guidance and conducive family environment, and mixing with the wrong company. We must therefore do more, to support the children and families of offenders, and the offenders themselves. We have to look into the family circumstances and if there are young children, we probably should intervene earlier rather than later.
- This is an emerging area of work, that will require stronger coordination between SPS, SCORE, as well as our social and education agencies. We cannot do this without the social and education agencies also getting involved.
- I have talked about a Learning Prison. I have talked about Community Corrections. I have talked about upskilling our Captains of Lives.
- To conclude, I think really, all of us deeply believe that in the heart of every offender lies the potential for change. The challenge is how we can, as officers, as community partners and as Captains of Lives, best harness this potential to effect change and transform lives. How can we all chip in to help offenders, when they look out of the prison bars, to see the sun and the stars? I believe that they have a real chance to make it after release.
- I thank every Captain of Lives for walking alongside our offenders in their journey of rehabilitation. I would also like to thank all our community partners and employers for your strong support given to offenders, as well as SPS and SCORE. It is my conviction that it is when we all work together that we have a real chance of a further breakthrough in helping our offenders get their lives back on track.
- I wish all of you a fruitful Corporate Advance. Thank you.