Published: 13 April 2017
Commissioner of Prisons, Mr Desmond Chin
Chief Executive, SCORE, Mr Stanley Tang
Officers of the Singapore Prison Service and SCORE
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. I am pleased to join you today at the Singapore Prison Service and SCORE Corporate Advance 2017.
Transformation From Within
2. The Prisons journey together with SCORE over the last 20, 30 years is a very inspiring one. Normally when you talk about Prisons, the word inspiring doesn't come to mind. You don't put those two words together. You think of these places where you lock people up, people who have done bad things, and they come out later on.
3. If you go back 30 years, that was the philosophy in our Prisons, and correctional institutions around the world. It comes from the philosophy of retribution – lock them up as they were a danger to themselves and society. They were treated with a very disciplinary approach. Prison guards were disciplinarians, and generally the environment was expected to be harsh.
4. That remains true in many places around the world. But for us, Prisons was coping with a huge number of issues – lots of prisoners, understaffed, officers overworked, high staff turnover. The whole environment was no different from what you see in many places around the world.
5. In the 1990s, there was an attitude change in Singapore. We said, let us see how we can transform the Prisons. Transform in a way where we think how we can better serve society by helping these people without going soft on the underlying issues. They may well be a threat to themselves and to society. To that extent, they may have to be removed. But how can we make the whole Prisons experience one where perhaps at the end of it, the prisoners come out better people, helping themselves and better fitting into society.
6. That transformation involved all levels. It can't be done unless it started right at the top, and then all the way down to the individual officer on the ground – after a very substantive engagement, consultations and talks, thinking through.
7. In 1998, Prisons came up with this tagline, which I think encapsulates what the approach is all about: Captains of Lives. You are no longer just people who lock prisoners up, but you are in charge of their lives. You take charge of their lives, you transform their lives. Hopefully, they will go out and they will be better citizens and fulfil their own potential better.
8. It was a very powerful and compelling vision, and it drove a culture change in the Prison Service. Our Prison officers were inspired, empowered. They helped inmates change for the better.
9. SCORE was a key partner throughout, in all of these. New structures were set up to help this transformation. We have the Programme Branch, which focused on rehabilitation. Now it is called the Rehabilitation and Reintegration Division. SCORE set up the Job Placement Unit. Really, when prisoners you go out, the people waiting at the gates may be people who got them into trouble in the first place. So how do you get them out of that, get them to have a job, earn a living, and give them meaning to their lives? The Job Placement Unit was extremely important.
10. Third, the recognition that rehabilitation doesn't stop on the day they get released. They don't become completely different people. You have to continue with the rehabilitation after they get released. And that is where the community partners, some of whom are here today, play a very important part.
11. We set up the CARE Network, which comprised community partners working with us to help coordinate and help reintegrate the ex-prisoners. And the Yellow Ribbon Project - our signature project set up in 2004, raised awareness. While prisoners are one part of the story, families are another part of the story, but the third part of the story is acceptance by the community, and not to have rejection. That acceptance had to come from raising awareness, raising acceptance, trying to get the community to be aware, to be more tolerant and accepting. The Yellow Ribbon Project really has been a huge success. Together, all these different approaches and the transformation has yielded very, very, tangible results.
12. If we look at the recidivism rate in the 1990s, it was 50%. Out of every 2 persons who walked out, 1 came back, and then back again. Today, it is 1 in 4. That is a lot of lives saved over the years. We want to try and bring it down. 96% of inmates got a job placement through SCORE last year, secured before their release. Now, our next challenge is to help them keep their jobs because quite a few quit within the first year. How can we help them keep their jobs?
13. I'll share a story. In these settings, we speak with each other and we can easily persuade each other that what we are doing is right. On Monday, I was having lunch with a team of lawyers from CLAS (Criminal Legal Aid Scheme) run by the Law Society. By nature, this is a self-selected group with an interest in criminal law. Because it doesn't pay a huge amount, people are in it because they really want to do it.
14. I was having lunch with them, talking about the things they do, mostly criminal law. Lots of interaction with the Police and the AGC and the Prisons. One of the ladies was telling me about this young man, think 18 or so, dropped out of school, no full education, got into trouble several times. Now he is most likely going to go in Prison again. He said to her and she repeated to me, that at least there is hope because once he gets into Prison, they will let him study. They will force him to study. Hopefully, he will then study, he will have time, and he won't get into bad company. He will be kept away from bad company. He will come out and then he will be qualified to get a job. It is an interesting way of looking at things. It is a stretch to say he was looking forward to coming back into Prison but I think it is fair to say he believed that it would do him a lot of good. That kind of mindset change in people of that generation, means that the Prisons message is getting through to the ground. So I would say, very well done.
New Environment, New Challenges
15. Now, even as we have tackled these and we are here, of course the world doesn't stand still. You now have new challenges. Within each part of the offending life-cycle, we have made good progress in rehabilitation. Is there a possibility of doing even more? We know from big data who are the likely people who are likely to come into Prison. Can we intervene early? What can we do? What are the more effective ways of intervening when they are in Prisons and when they are out?
16. Second, the profile of offenders is changing. For example, drug abusers are younger, better educated. How do we deal with them? What worked with the previous generation of drug abusers may not work with this group. This is where a close partnership with the community is vital, because we are going to need differentiated types of structures to deal with different profiles of offenders and ex-offenders.
17. In terms of support for ex-prisoners, we are focused on the first 2 years. The first 5 years are really periods at risk. So the next 3 years, what can we do? Again, all of these are in the enlightened self-interest of both the Government, Prisons, and the public. Because if they stay out of trouble, not only are you helping an individual fulfil his or her full potential, but you are also keeping society safe, and you are reducing the load on Prisons. How can we therefore work together with the community to strengthen the aftercare approach, particularly in the context of job placements, and the third, fourth or fifth years?
18. Another challenge is the aging inmate population. Today, those above 60 are probably at about 5%. But we can expect this number to grow. The physical infrastructure we can change, but what about our rehabilitation and reintegration programmes? These people, when they come out, I think it will be more difficult for them to find a job and more difficult for them to keep a job. They are out of technology and they are out of circulation. They may also be considered too old by many of the employers. So this is another challenge. But they have to have meaningful lives, and we have to try.
19. Next, even for younger prisoners, even for us in the current job environment, job specifications and job requirements are changing very fast. In a digital economy, you are constantly changing. It is difficult for people in jobs to keep up with the changes that are taking place. All the more so for people who offend and were in Prisons. When they come out, things have changed quite fast. How do they get back? How can we help them get back onto their feet in that environment?
Opportunities of Transformation
20. These are some of the challenges, not the universe of challenges, but some of the challenges that we face. How do we meet these challenges? The mantra today is to what extent can you use technology. That's one area. In many ways, Prisons, as with other Home Team Departments, has started using technology to deal with the manpower crunch that they face. For example, if you look at Tanah Merah Prison, they have started introducing tablets so that the prisoners can learn more on their own. There are possibilities to extend this to all prisoners in the future. And there is much more potential. One of the themes Prisons is thinking of, is a "Prisons Without Guards". What does this mean? In a lot of places, the use of technology such as RFID means you don't need Prison officers to be watching, or physically being around the prisoners all the time. There are areas that can have "self-supervision", but yet monitored through technology. That will really help our officers free up their time to do other things, and this will help with the manpower crunch.
The Community's Vital Role
21. A second theme is "Prisons Without Walls". The idea is to have seamless community aftercare, so that when prisoners leave, we continue to work with them and the community partners to help them reintegrate, and move seamlessly from within Prison to outside. Substantial progress has been made with community-based programmes. Prisons and SCORE work very closely with partners and are thinking of expanding these programmes. In January this year, the Halfway-House service model was reviewed and revised, and a new concept was implemented. This places more emphasis on supporting the ex-prisoners, and their employment and accommodation needs. The new Selarang Halfway House has started operations. It focuses on high-risk prisoners under the mandatory aftercare scheme. They are given a more structured environment, live under certain rules, and at the same time, try and take on jobs.
22. Another area that I am particularly happy about is the partnership that we are forging with Malay-Muslim organisations in the area of reintegration. Prisons has started working very closely with the Association of Muslims Professionals (AMP) in the last year, and piloting the first integrated throughcare programme for Muslim drug abusers this year. AMP will provide the personal developmental programmes to the inmates, when they are in Prison, and after they are released, they will be followed-up by AMP's team of case workers. We will work with and support AMP. Families of the inmates, because families are a key part of the rehabilitation process, can also enrol in the AMP programme and be part of its family and youth developmental programmes. So I'm quite excited by this, and while plans are one thing, implementation is another, so we have to make sure we see this through. I've asked Parliamentary Secretary Amrin to focus on this. The idea is to help the families to be financially stable and economically independent. AMP is not our only partner. We have long standing partners such as Jamiyah and Pertapis, who are also here today. They have been playing important roles in helping us with Malay offenders and their reintegration. This has been going on for quite some time. We do need more community partners. Prisons and SCORE need support from the community for more of these efforts. As I said earlier, this is also in the enlightened self-interest of all of us.
23. Let me share the story of Ridza. He started smoking cannabis when he was twelve, and moved to other drugs. He was sent to the DRC, reoffended, and sent to DRC again. After DRC, he agreed reluctantly to be emplaced at Pertapis Halfway House. His time with Pertapis changed his life for the better, and helped break the cycle. He started opening up to the staff, talked to them, took responsibility for his actions. They recognised his talents, he had sporting talent, and they encouraged him to train. He represented Pertapis in football. Being good at something gave him self-confidence and he began to change and since then, he has not looked back. He's since been with Pertapis for 23 years, and he's here with us today. We should congratulate people like him.
Skills Training and Employment
24. The third facet of transformation is in skills training and employment initiatives. We want to give inmates the best chance of finding a job and keeping it. Prisons, SCORE and their partners have been working hard to refresh the training programmes in Prison. SCORE will soon be commencing the WSQ Advanced training for inmates, get it accredited, so that employers understand there is a proper accreditation and that these people are trained. They will be trained with supervisory skills in specialised industries, including manufacturing and logistics. When they come out, they can pursue WSQ diploma courses.
25. Last year, SCORE also partnered employers in a new initiative to send ex-offenders for further skills training. More than 200 ex-offenders have gone for that. SCORE will also be extending its job retention support for some offenders, so targeted assistance will be given for some offenders for up to twelve months to help them transition and keep their jobs. This is a key issue for us. Over the years, the good work that Prisons and SCORE have done, with the support of MHA, has been recognised not just domestically, with increasing awareness of the good work that has been done, but also internationally. My belief is that we should continue to showcase and share what we do with other countries because that understanding then creates a certain idea and identity of our entire law enforcement approach which then helps us in other fields, and develop other spinoffs. So that kind of positive mindshare is important when we discuss other issues, be it our approach to drugs, or the death penalty, it's a continuum of what they see us doing here, and I think that has got benefits.
26. Prisons and SCORE are really at the forefront of correctional research, practice, and helping inmates overcome their drug dependency, kick off their habits. For example, the Yellow Ribbon project has inspired others, such as the Czech Republic who came to study it, and they've now incorporated it as part of their Prague International Marathon. Our officers went to participate in it. We need to do more of this, and even have seminars in Singapore, which bring together the best practices, and never believe that we have found all the solutions. There are always things to learn from others. So bring it here and share, and get people to understand what Singapore is about.
27. So to conclude, this next stage of the transformation journey, for both Prisons and SCORE is not going to be without challenges. But I am sure with the spirit that has been shown, the esprit de corps, the kinds of officers we have built up, the mindset change that has come about, will all help both institutions meet and overcome the challenges and do well by our people. Thank you.