Published: 25 August 2023
Co-Chair of the Home Team Volunteer Network, Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee,
Commissioner of Prisons, Ms Shie Yong Lee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. A very good evening to each and every one of you. I am very happy to join you here at the SPS Volunteer Awards Ceremony 2023.
2. As we enter our 12th year of honouring our volunteers supporting our rehabilitation and reintegration efforts, it is fitting that SPS has also invited the family members to this ceremony, so that we can celebrate the volunteers’ achievements together. I am very thankful to not only the volunteers, but also their family members.
Volunteers are a Multiplier to Efforts in Corrections
3. Today we have close to 500 volunteers and family members of volunteers. Volunteers like yourself play an important role in the rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates. You are a multiplier to the Prison Service’s efforts, through the support you provide to inmates during their incarceration, as well as after their release.
(a) You share knowledge and impart skills to improve our inmates’ reintegration potential.
(b) You also provide emotional support that encourages inmates to stay focused and committed to rehabilitation while serving their sentences, and journey with them after their release.
4. I thank all of our 4,200 volunteers for your hard work toward giving ex-offenders a second chance. Thank you for your commitment and dedication!
5. Successful, long-term desistance depends on ex-offenders having strong social capital and positive social relationships.
6. At this year’s Volunteer Awards Ceremony, we are launching the “Throughcare Hero” award category.
7. This award aims to appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of our partners and volunteers who journey with the inmates and their families throughout, and beyond, incarceration.
8. One of the “Throughcare Hero” award recipients this evening is Ms Ustazah Laila. She founded a religious education centre based in Woodlands and has volunteered as a religious counsellor to female inmates for the past two decades.
9. Ms Laila encouraged the inmates under her care to continue to reach out to her even after they were released, recognising their need to be continually supported by peers and mentors.
10. She went the extra mile to offer her religious education centre as a space for ex-offenders to gather. This eventually led to the establishment of a support group for ex-offenders to seek friendship and guidance – and importantly, moral encouragement and a listening ear.
11. In 2019, Ms Laila officially named her growing support group the “Nisa’ Hope Network”. “Nisa” is Arabic for “women”.
(a) The WhatsApp group that Ms Laila set up for this community currently has more than 60 ex-offenders and desistors.
(b) The close-knit community shares positive encouragement to each other in their journey toward desistance.
(c) Ms Laila continues to conduct regular support group sessions and various prosocial activities for the ex-offenders and their families.
12. Ms Laila is also a recipient of the 20-year Long Service Award. Tonight, we celebrate the long service of more than 400 volunteers like Ms Laila, from over 50 agencies.
13. The long service award is testament to the sustained efforts by the community in support of desistance, in partnership with the SPS. This includes social service agencies, halfway houses, religious organisations, grassroots constituencies, corporates, and schools.
14. I would like to mention the Singapore Buddhist Federation (SBF), who has had a long partnership with SPS since 1978, initiated by its then President, the late Venerable Seck Hong Choon.
15. Throughout these 45 years, SBF worked with SPS to provide religious guidance to about 600 Buddhist inmates yearly.
16. SBF is a strong proponent of providing throughcare support to inmates, as part of the Throughcare Volunteer Framework.
(a) For inmates who have been counselled by SBF volunteers while incarcerated, SBF continues to engage them upon release by arranging weekly meetings for counselling and community visits to their homes.
(b) SBF also provides a range of support and assistance programmes, such as subsidies to ex-offenders who wish to attend training and courses.
(c) I hear that some of the ex-offenders are so inspired that they have signed up to become SBF volunteers to share their successful reintegration journey with others.
17. We are truly grateful for the support and contributions of our community partners, like the SBF. You have made a significant impact – thank you!
Initiatives to Strengthen Community Support for Desistance
18. While we have done well to bring down the two-year recidivism rate to about 20%, our five-year recidivism has remained at about 40%.
19. We want to bring this figure down. We want to help ex-offenders to be able to stay with their family, friends and loved ones. This can only be achieved with the help of our partners and volunteers.
20. A recent example of our collaboration efforts is the Desistor Network launched in April this year, where desistors provide prosocial support to other ex-offenders and motivate those who are just starting out in their desistance journey.
(a) The network empowers desistors to give back to the community and create a virtuous cycle of community support.
(b) We look forward to many more partners working with us to strengthen the Desistor Network.
21. Over the last few years, SPS has placed more inmates on Community-Based Programmes. These programmes provide structured support, which includes counselling, befriending services, employment assistance, and housing and financial assistance.
22. With more inmates serving the end of their sentences in the community, we will need to correspondingly ramp up support for community corrections and help start the ex-offender’s journey towards desistance.
23. SPS recently launched the Volunteer Case Officer (VCO) Scheme.
(a) VCOs will be trained in social service knowledge to strengthen case management support to supervisees on Community-Based Programmes.
(b) VCOs engage supervisees regularly and provide monthly progress reports on their reintegration progress, working closely with their supervisees’ Reintegration Officers. This includes monitoring their needs and risks faced, as well as interventions conducted and forward plans.
(c) Thus far, SPS has recruited 50 VCOs and intends to grow this pool of volunteers to 240 by 2024.
24. I would like to take this opportunity to encourage our volunteers and friends who have social service knowledge and background to sign up as a VCO. Your support will help inmates to better cope with reintegration challenges and desist from crime in the long run. At the end of the day, we want to support our inmates and their families, and help rebuild their lives.
25. To conclude, let me share a story of an ex-offender, James.
26. Having served four jail terms since the age of 18, James was last released from prison five years ago in 2018, after serving 30 years behind bars.
27. While serving his last sentence, James turned to emotional and spiritual support through counselling sessions offered by the Roman Catholic Prison Ministry (RCPM). It turned out to be a pivotal moment in his life, as he met Mr Jimmy Yuen, a volunteer at RCPM who became James’ mentor.
28. Upon James’ release, he was warmly accepted by the RCPM and the religious community. James has been working for the RCPM since 2021 and volunteers as a religious counsellor to inmates.
29. This is an excellent example of the virtuous cycle of community support, allowing James to find a new sense of purpose and meaning as a volunteer.
30. Volunteers are part of the prosocial network in the community. You help to reinforce ex-offenders’ resolve to desist and directly support the reunification of families after their release.
31. A whole-of-society effort is needed to build a more caring and inclusive community – one that believes in second chances. My sincere thanks to all of you. The awards you receive tonight are a small gesture in appreciation of what you do. I urge you to continue on your volunteer journey, as we join our inmates and their families in rebuilding their lives.
32. Once again, thank you and your family members for being part of our journey once again. I hope you continue to support your loved ones to do this meaningful work. Thank you and have a great evening.