Published: 17 June 2022
Mdm Shie Yong Lee, Commissioner of Prisons,
Mr Phillip Tan, Chairman of Yellow Ribbon Singapore,
Mr Pang Kin Keong, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs,
Colleagues from the Singapore Prison Service and Yellow Ribbon Singapore,
Ladies and Gentlemen, including those who have joined us online.
1. A very good morning. Thank you for inviting me to join you at your Corporate Advance. Watching the video and looking at all the work done by our colleagues, volunteers, community partners, and fellow Singaporeans for our ex-offenders, is very inspiring, and motivates us to do even more.
2. I would like to congratulate the Singapore Prison Service and Yellow Ribbon Singapore in achieving good progress in reducing the two-year recidivism rate.
3. It was at 20% last year, for the 2019 release cohort. This was the lowest in the last 30 years, and among the lowest in the world.
4. This would not have been possible without the collective effort, commitment, and hard work, of the Singapore Prison Service, Yellow Ribbon Singapore, and our valued partners here with us today.
5. We have done well in the two-year recidivism rate, and it is time for us to set a more ambitious target. We should aim to reduce the five-year recidivism rate.
6. The five-year recidivism rate measures how well an ex-offender can stay away from crime in the longer term.
7. It was at 41% last year, for the 2016 release cohort. This meant about two in five ex-offenders had re-offended and re-admitted to prison within five years.
8. This is our next challenge. And I am confident we can do it.
9. How can we bring down the five-year recidivism rate? This will be the focus of my speech today. We need to improve our efforts in firstly, rehabilitation efforts during incarceration, in particular for high-needs inmates, and secondly, rehabilitation efforts after an inmate is released.
10. First, I will speak on rehabilitation efforts during incarceration.
11. Our rehabilitation efforts are scientific and evidence-based.
12. There is a framework in place to assess the inmates’ risks and needs.
13. Inmates undergo rehabilitation programmes to address these risks and needs. Some of these programmes include psychology-based correctional programmes, family programmes, skills training and employment assistance. During the process, families and community partners are involved in providing prosocial support to inmates during their imprisonment and after they are released.
14. Let me highlight a few new initiatives.
15. In 2020, to strengthen support for the family of inmates, the Singapore Prison Service started to assess newly admitted female inmates with young children on their family situation. This is done upon their admission to prison. Families in need of assistance were referred to the Family Service Centres (FSCs) for further help.
16. In 2021, this was extended to male inmates with young children in the Drug Rehabilitation Centres, and those in remand. The Singapore Prison Service will expand this to all other inmates with young children in 2023. This collaboration between the Singapore Prison Service and the FSCs is crucial; as we focus our efforts on helping the inmates, their family is not forgotten in the process.
17. Besides having the support of the family, research has shown that employment is a key factor in influencing recidivism.
18. Gainful employment allows ex-offenders to be financially independent and improve their overall quality of life.
19. Yellow Ribbon Singapore is a key enabler in this area.
20. Inmates receive skills training and support to improve their employment prospects. Under Yellow Ribbon Singapore’s ‘Train And Place & Grow’ (‘TAP & Grow’) initiative, inmates will be equipped with deeper industry skills. TAP & Grow currently offers inmates career pathways in the media, precision engineering, and logistics sectors. This year, Yellow Ribbon Singapore will expand the programme to include the Food Services sector.
21. We will also introduce the Employment Preparation Scheme this year. Suitable inmates can undergo skills training and education in the community. This will help inmates to enhance their employability, secure jobs, and reintegrate with the rest of society.
22. Aside from the general inmate population, we also provide additional help to inmates with higher needs.
23. Upon admission, inmates are assessed by mental health professionals on the state of their mental health. Inmates requiring specialised care are housed in the Psychiatric Correctional Unit, where support such as therapy and counselling are provided by the Singapore Prison Service and Institute of Mental Health staff.
24. Inmates who have committed violent and sexual offences undergo psychological assessments. They attend suitable programmes and interventions to reduce their violence and sexual risk of re-offending.
25. We will need to continue with our scientific and evidence-based approach, and increase our efforts in supporting our inmates and their families, especially for those with higher needs.
26. Now, I will touch on the most challenging aspect of rehabilitation, which is the phase after an inmate’s release.
27. Inmates on the Mandatory Aftercare Scheme (MAS) are given additional scaffolding and support upon their release through case management, counselling support and close supervision.
28. Drug abusers will also come under Central Narcotics Bureau’s supervision order.
29. I spoke about inmates with higher needs earlier on. The Singapore Prison Service works closely with community partners such as Institute of Mental Health and social service agencies for follow-up care for inmates after they are released.
30. We need to improve the inmates’ access to continual treatment after they are released.
31. To reduce the five-year recidivism rate, it is vital that we build a strong ecosystem of pro-social support to help ex-offenders to stay away from their old ways. This requires strong support from community partners.
32. Let me share one example of how the support of our partners made a difference, for the case of Jeremiah.
33. Jeremiah met Pastor Daniel during Christian counselling when he was in prison. Jeremiah found himself receptive to Pastor Daniel’s words of advice and encouragement.
34. On the day of his release, Jeremiah met up with Pastor Daniel. They discussed Jeremiah’s employment and reintegration plans. In the months post-release, Pastor Daniel and his church members were there for Jeremiah to provide him moral support when he was faced with challenges at work, and they motivated him to stay away from drugs.
35. Today, I am proud to say that Jeremiah is coping well and has managed to stay away from drugs. He is paying forward the support he had received from Pastor Daniel and his community by being an active member of the church and leading worship sessions on Saturdays. Please join me in congratulating Jeremiah and Pastor Daniel.
36. To further strengthen the eco-system of support, the Singapore Prison Service is developing a Community Mobilisation Plan to engage, mobilise and equip the community with skillsets to support inmates.
37. Through this initiative, we hope to engage various stakeholders, and to strengthen the support given to stakeholders in the process.
38. As part of the Community Mobilisation Plan, the Singapore Prison Service will be setting up a desistor’s network to provide peer support for those who are still on their rehabilitation journey.
39. Desistors have been through the journey themselves. They therefore understand the challenges faced, and support required by ex-offenders after release.
40. I would like to share with you another story, the story of Hezekiah. Hezekiah started consuming drugs in his teens when he joined a gang to find a sense of belonging. He was later imprisoned three times for drug offences.
41. The turning point for him came when he was residing at The New Charis Mission halfway house. He met Bernard, a full-time staff of the halfway house. Bernard himself was an ex-offender.
42. Bernard introduced Hezekiah to Break The Cycle SG (BTC) – a group of like-minded individuals and ex-offenders, who provide prosocial support to other ex-offenders through their common passion for cycling. At BTC, Hezekiah found a sense of belonging with a positive community, and this helped him break the cycle of drug addiction.
43. Last year, Hezekiah and BTC participated in a cycling event to raise funds for The Helping Hand Halfway House. They achieved their goal of cycling 340km and raised $15,000.
44. Recently, Hezekiah managed to secure a job as a yacht charter crew through the recommendation of a fellow cyclist from BTC.
45. I am very inspired by Hezakiah’s story, and I am confident that we will see more of such stories when the desistor’s network is set up.
46. Yellow Ribbon Singapore is also working to galvanise its network of Yellow Ribbon supporters in advocating for second chances.
47. Yellow Ribbon Singapore will be launching ‘Friends of Yellow Ribbon Singapore’ to bring together a range of stakeholders supporting the Yellow Ribbon cause in the community.
48. A Telegram channel will be created to share information such as the latest news, Yellow Ribbon Project events and volunteering opportunities to support inmates and ex-offenders’ reintegration. We hope to a forge a sense of togetherness and common identity among our stakeholders to continue to advocate for second chances.
49. Let me share another story of a Yellow Ribbon Project Volunteer, Ms Nutan Shah, who has been a strong advocate for second chances.
50. Her initiative helped inmates to give back to the community. Ms Nutan Shah initiated a collaboration with NParks on the One Million trees project, to organise a tree planting and coastal clean-up event, with residents from The Helping Hand Halfway House and HEB-Ashram Halfway House.
51. The planting of trees might look like a simple activity, but it sends a strong signal that ex-offenders can play their part and give back to the community.
52. More recently, Ms Nutan Shah also initiated a new project to channel secondhand items to the residents of Selarang Halfway House, families of inmates and ex-offenders. This has helped the beneficiaries meet some of their basic needs. She hopes to expand this project in the second half of the year and recruit more volunteers to join her.
53. In fact, Ms Nutan Shah received the Advocates of Second Chances (Public Advocate) Award in 2021. She is now a Yellow Ribbon Volunteer, contributing to the Yellow Ribbon cause.
54. I hope to see more volunteers follow the footsteps of Pastor Daniel, Ms Nutan Shah, as well as our friends from BTC, to join this meaningful cause.
55. This year’s Corporate Advance theme is “Together – Transforming Corrections, Uplifting Lives’.
56. This is a good representation of how we view incarceration today – not just as a form of punishment or deterrence, but also a way to turnaround lives for the better. It is an opportunity for inmates to work on being a better version of themselves and become contributing members of the society. This creates a transformational, ripple effect on inmates, ex-offenders, and their family, to turn their lives around.
57. It is a very different approach compared to the past. Thirty years ago, prisons were mainly seen as a place for punishment. We lock up inmates, keep them away from society. We have come a long way since then.
58. The rehabilitation system is one of continuous transformation.
59. I am happy to see that there has been a nomenclature change in the living units of inmates to reflect this transformation. They are now known as Correctional Units, instead of Housing Units. Officers in the Correctional Units are now called Correctional Unit Officers.
60. It reflects the widening role of Captains of Lives and shows the transformation of our prison officers’ work. Captains of Lives, you facilitate and guide inmates, and work with the family of the inmates and community partners. You play a part in transforming lives, not just the inmates’, but beyond the inmates, the families and the community. It is a meaningful career.
61. I am proud of our Captains of Lives. The work you do has great and positive impacts, thank you.
62. The next group of people that I would like to thank are our volunteers, partners and employers for all your dedication in making a difference to the lives of inmates, ex-offenders and their families. You know, nothing beats feeling the passion of our volunteers, our partners and colleagues. I have also been very fortunate to be able to visit and work with many of you. What inspires me is that you go beyond your call of duty to support inmates on their rehabilitation journey. So, my sincere thanks to you.
63. As we move towards our challenge of reducing the 5-year recidivism rate, I sincerely look forward to your continuous and strong support in the rehabilitation and reintegration journey of our ex-offenders.
64. Today, I am happy to officiate the opening of the Prisons Heritage Gallery.
65. It is more than just an exhibition of the physical modernisation of our prison infrastructure.
66. It also represents how the Singapore Prison Service is progressing to be a thought leader in corrections, as well as the mindset transformation, of the Prison Service and its officers.
67. To conclude, our next target is to bring down the five-year recidivism rate. We need the community’s even stronger support, to join us to co-create and transform rehabilitation and reintegration.
68. I strongly encourage more community partners to join us, to support ex-offenders in their rehabilitation journey.
69. Alone, the work may be daunting, but together, we can do so much more.
70. I wish all of you a meaningful Corporate Advance 2022.
71. Thank you.